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Milky Way Will Collide With A Neighbour Galaxy, And It’s Inevitable

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Our Milky Way
Galaxy might seem all big at strong at first, but are we really safe
in this spiralling gorgeousness? While our Solar System will remain
habitable for at least a few billion years more with Sun burning
brightly to keep planet Earth all warm and cosy, the Milky Way is on
a dreadful collision path with another galaxy, and it won’t end
good. But will it be a devastating experience or do we stand a chance
to see the birth of a completely new galaxy? That is, of course, if
humanity lasts long enough to observe this cosmic event.

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It
seems that galaxy clashes aren’t that rare judging by the state of
our very own Milky Way. Astronomers made some findings in 2018 that
suggest Milky Way devoured a dwarf galaxy back in the day. It wasn’t
big – not bigger than the Small Magellanic Cloud – but it is a
disturbing fact nonetheless. The galaxy’s name was Gaia-Enceladus
and now there’s almost nothing left of it apart from a cluster of
gorgeous blue stars inside the halo of Milky Way.

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Believe
it or not, but without this catastrophic collision our galaxy simply
wouldn’t look the way it does today. The exploration of the
Gaia-Enceladus incident allowed scientists to pinpoint almost the
exact time when the clash happened – some 10 billion years ago. So
there were two galaxies back in the day: one was massive and packed
with metals, while the other, Gaia Enceladus, was much lighter and
smaller in size. The collision was quite appalling, creating chaos
within two galaxies, ending with complete demolition of
Gaia-Enceladus. This event kick-started star-forming processes, which
continued for billions of years. As a result our Milky Way galaxy was
born!

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Our
Milky Way has been munching on dwarf galaxies all throughout its
history, adding them to its spectacular sparkly halo. Scientists
believe the merger with Gaia-Enceladus was the first and the biggest
one. This galaxy’s gas served as fuel for the star-forming
processes of our own galaxy, but it did create a bit of a mess,
stealing some ancient red stars from the body of Milky Way. We got to
know all this thanks to the Gaia Spacecraft and its discoveries.

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M31,
also known as Andromeda, is our closest neighbour and it’s on the
course to merge with Milky Way. Measurements made with the help of
Gaia Spacecraft allowed astronomers to create an estimate timeline
for the event – it’s supposed to happen in about 4.5 billion
years. Other calculations suggest Milky Way would hit Andromeda
earlier in just 4 billion years, but it doesn’t really make that
big of a difference since our galaxy will still become Andromeda’s
breakfast.

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If
you think Milky Way was a bit of a hungry beast, wait till you hear
about Andromeda’s diet. The M31 galaxy has existed for over 10
billion years eating up smaller galaxies during all this time. A
study published in Nature delves into the complex structure of the
Andromeda galaxy’s stellar halo that suggests that it has gone
through at least two big mergers apart from numerous smaller ones.
One happened when the galaxy was still quite young, while the other
one was quite recent – just a few billion years ago!

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Astronomers
believe the future collision will be a fierce, nearly apocalyptic
event that will tear both of the galaxies apart. Just because both of
them are natural galaxy-eaters and will bite pieces from each other
in a very vicious manner. Scientists have found numerous remnants
from previous meals of Andromeda, all of which became part of her
galactic halo in a form of globular clusters. Scientists predict that
the collision of two galaxies will be highly destructive and there
will be nothing left of their beautiful spiral disks. On a more
cheerful note, if humanity survives to observe the event, we will see
billions of new stars in the skies above Earth.

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