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A catastrophic crash with our neighboring galaxy could happen sooner than first predicted according to scientists.

A research team from Britain’s Durham University has revised their prediction for the Milky Way’s collision with Andromeda from 8 billion to 5 billion years from now.

The lead author of the new research paper published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, warned the disaster could change the direction of our solar system.

“There is a small chance that we might not escape unscathed from the collision between the two galaxies, which could knock us out of the Milky Way and into interstellar space,” Marius Cautun, a postdoctoral fellow at Durham’s Institute for Computational Cosmology, told CNET.

This Hubble Space Telescope image shows a merger between two galaxies — M51a, also known as the Whirlpool galaxy (left), and M51b — that are similar in mass to the Milky Way and the Large Magellanic Cloud.
Credit: NASA, ESA, S. Beckwith (STScI), and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Another smaller collision is predicted to happen between the Milky Way and Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) 2.5 billion years from now.

“While 2 billion years is an extremely long time compared to a human lifetime, it is a very short time on cosmic timescales,” Cautun said.

The incident will see the LMC, which is about seven times smaller than the Milky Way, be absorbed into our galaxy and revive a dormant black hole at the center. The black hole will render the Milky Way into an active “galactic nucleus” or “quasar.”

“This phenomenon will generate powerful jets of high-energy radiation, emanating from just outside the black hole,” Cautun told Space.com.

LMC is a smaller satellite galaxy that orbits the Milky Way and is believed to contain twice as much dark matter than previously thought, meaning it could be slowing down so much it would succumb to the galaxy’s gravitational force.

“Dynamical friction acting on such a heavy galaxy will cause its orbit rapidly to lose energy and, approximately a billion years from now, to turn around and head towards the center where it is destined to merge in another 1.5 billion years or so,” the research team said.

There is a small chance the gravitational changed caused by the merger with Andromeda could propel the enlarged entity into intergalactic space. However, our solar system is unlikely to be affected due to the great distance between stars.

By Richard Taylor

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