A new research conducted by astrophysicists at the University of Durham in the UK predicts that the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) may reach the Milky Way in two billion years.
The collision may occur long before the expected impact between the Milky Way and another neighboring galaxy, Andromeda, which scientists say will hit our galaxy in eight billion years.
The catastrophic union with the Great Magellanic Cloud could awaken the black hole of our galaxy, which would begin to devour the surrounding gas and increase in size by up to ten times.
While feeding, the now-active black hole would throw away high-energy radiation, and although these cosmic fireworks do not affect life on Earth, scientists say there is a small chance that the initial collision could launch our Solar System into the space. .
The results are published today (Friday, January 4) in the Monthly Notices magazine of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Galaxies like our own Milky Way are surrounded by a group of smaller satellite galaxies that orbit around them, much like how bees move around a beehive.
Normally, these satellite galaxies have a quiet life and orbit around their hosts for many billions of years. However, from time to time, they sink into the center, collide and are devoured by their host galaxy.
The Great Magellanic Cloud is the brightest galaxy of the Milky Way galaxy and has only entered our neighborhood for about 1.5 billion years. It sits about 163,000 light-years away from the Milky Way.
Until recently, astronomers thought it would orbit the Milky Way for many billions of years or, once it moves so quickly, it would escape the gravitational pull of our galaxy.
However, recent measurements indicate that the Large Magellanic Cloud has almost twice as much dark matter as previously thought. Researchers say that because the mass is larger than expected, the Great Magellanic Cloud is rapidly losing energy and is doomed to collide with our galaxy.
The research team, led by scientists at the Institute of Computational Cosmology at Durham University, worked with the EAGLE supercomputer simulation to predict the collision.
Lead author Dr. Marius Cautun, a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of Computational Cosmology at Durham University, said: "While two billion years is an extremely long time compared to a human life, it is a very short time on cosmic scales.
"The destruction of the Great Magellanic Cloud as it is devoured by the Milky Way will wreak havoc on our galaxy, waking up the black hole that lives in its center and transforming our galaxy into an" active galactic nucleus "or quasar.
"This phenomenon will generate powerful jets of high-energy radiation emanating from outside the black hole. While this does not affect our Solar System, there is a small chance that we can not escape unharmed from the collision between the two galaxies that could knock us down." out of the Milky Way and into interstellar space. "
The collision between the Great Magellanic Cloud and the Milky Way can be spectacular, say researchers.
Professor Carlos Frenk, director of the Institute for Computational Cosmology at Durham University, said: "As beautiful as it is, our Universe is constantly evolving, often through violent events like the next collision with the Great Magellanic Cloud.
"Forbidding any disaster as a major disturbance in the Solar System, our descendants, if any, are a delight: a spectacular display of cosmic fireworks while the newly awakened supermassive black hole in the center of our galaxy reacts by emitting radiation jets extremely bright energy. "
According to the researchers, the merging of the two galaxies could be delayed in cosmic terms.
Dr. Alis Deason of the Institute of Computational Cosmology at Durham University said: "We think that our galaxy has so far had only a few fusions with very low mass galaxies.
"For example, our nearest neighbor, the Andromeda galaxy, devoured galaxies weighing nearly 30 times more than those consumed by the Milky Way." This represents very small crops compared to neighboring galaxies the same size as the Milky Way.
"So the collision with the Great Magellanic Cloud is long overdue and necessary to make our galaxy typical."
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