Can it happen that someday our galaxy, the Milky Way , collides with its biggest neighbor, the Andromeda galaxy ?
Most likely, yes.
The meticulous study of the slight displacements of the stars of M31 in relation to the background galaxies in the last images of the Hubble Space Telescope indicates that the center of M31 could be in a direct trajectory of collision with the center of our home galaxy.
However, the errors in the lateral velocity seem to be large enough to admit a good chance that the central parts of the two galaxies will not collide completely, but they will get close enough that their outer halos will end up gravitationally entangled.
Once this happens the two galaxies will connect, dance around, and eventually merge to become a large elliptical galaxy , over the next billion years.
The image of today is an artistic illustration of the sky of a world in the distant future, when the central parts of each galaxy begin to destroy each other.
The exact future of our Milky Way and the entire Local Group of surrounding galaxies will probably remain an active research topic for many years to come.
Click here to see today’s image in higher resolution.
Credit for illustration: NASA , ESA , Z. Levay and R. van der Marel ( STScI ), and A. Mellinger.
This series of illustrations shows the planned fusion between our galaxy, the Milky Way and the neighboring Andromeda galaxy.
- First row, left: Today.
- First row, right: In 2 billion years the disc of the Andromeda galaxy approaching is noticeably larger.
- Second row, left: In 3.75 billion years, Andromeda fills the field of vision.
- Second row, right: In 3.85 billion years, the sky is burning with the formation of new stars.
- Third row, left: In 3.9 billion years, the formation of stars continues.
- In the third row, right: In 4 billion years, Andromeda stretches due to the tides and the Milky Way is deformed.
- Fourth row, left: In 5.1 billion years the nuclei of the Milky Way and Andromeda appear as a pair of bright lobes.
- Fourth row, right: In 7 billion years the fused galaxies will form an immense elliptical galaxy, its bright core will dominate the night sky.
Computer simulation of the foreseeable collision
This scientific visualization of a computer simulation shows the inevitable collision between our galaxy, the Milky Way and the Andromeda galaxy (also known as Messier 31).
Measuring the lateral movement of Andromeda
This video focuses on a region in the halo of the neighboring Andromeda galaxy that astronomers studied with the Hubble Space Telescope to make accurate measurements of the movement of the galaxy. It was previously known that Andromeda is approaching the Milky Way, but these new measurements of lateral (or sideways) movement of Andromeda can be used to predict that the galaxy is destined for a frontal collision with our Milky Way. Images from the same halo field captured at seven-year intervals were used to accurately measure the small amount of movement relative to the background galaxies. When this change is projected over the next 32,000 years, the movement in the sky becomes evident.