Disastrous galactic collision to permanently scar Milky Way sooner than expected

The destruction of the Milky Way as we know it may happen sooner than once expected and our descendants could be treated to a "spectacular display of cosmic fireworks" as a result, according to a new study.

A paper titled "The aftermath of the great collision between our galaxy and the large magellanic cloud", published in the Monthly Notice of the Royal Astronomical Society, states the collision could occur as soon as two billion years from now.

The large magellanic cloud (LMC) is a satellite galaxy to the Milky Way.

While the LMC is only about one-twentieth the size of our galaxy, if the two clash, it is believed permanent damage would be inflicted as the Milky Way devours the satellite galaxy.

The collision would lead to gases and stars entering a dormant black hole at the centre of the Milky Way, waking it up and potentially meaning the black hole grows up to eight times its current size.

The study's lead author, Dr Marius Cautun, said while two billion years sounds like an extremely long time away, on a cosmic time scale "it is a very short time".

"The destruction of the Large Magellanic Cloud, as it is devoured by the Milky Way, will wreak havoc with our galaxy, waking up the black hole that lives at its centre and turning our galaxy into an 'active galactic nucleus'."

The study suggests the ensuring cosmic fireworks of stars being catapulted out of place and cosmic radiation wouldn't affect life on our planet, but the initial collision may throw our solar system out into space.

Co-author, Professor Carlos Frenk, said the violent space event would be "spectacular" to view.

"Our descendants, if any, are in for a treat: a spectacular display of cosmic fireworks," he said.


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