Milky Way Galaxy Headed for Collision — Brace Yourselves, Here Comes the Large Magellanic Cloud!

The Cosmic Companion

The Milky Way Galaxy is headed for a collision with the Large Magellanic Cloud, a new study reveals. Astronomers have long known our galaxy is headed for a collision with the Andromeda Galaxy in roughly four billion years. However, new observations reveal the Milky Way is due to meet up with the smaller galaxy, the Large Magellanic Cloud, in roughly 2.4 billion years.

When the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) meets up with our own galaxy, the event will likely awaken the supermassive black hole at its center. This will result in the black hole taking in vast amounts of gas and other material, growing eight times its current size, emitting tremendous quantities of radiation in the process. As a result of the collision, the halo surrounding our galaxy will become five times larger than it is today.

“This phenomenon will generate powerful jets of high energy radiation emanating from just outside the black hole. While this will not affect 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,” explained Marius Cautun of Durham University’s Institute for Computational Cosmology.

This is a picture of M51a, The Whirlpool Galaxy, colliding with a smaller family of stars, M51b (top). This is similar to what it could look like when the Large Magellanic Cloud collides with The Milky Way. Image: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO; Optical: Detlef Hartmann; Infrared: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Large Magellanic Cloud entered our region on space 1.5 billion years ago, and currently resides 163,000 light years from our home galaxy. It is the brightest of the Milky Way’s satellite galaxies. Until this recent study, astronomers believed the LMC would pass by our galaxy without incident. However, new observations show the LMC contains twice as much dark matter as previously measured, which will draw that family of stars into a collision course with the Milky Way.

This collision may be long overdue in cosmological terms. Researchers believe the Milky Way has only collided with a handful of smaller galaxies, while our neighbor, Andromeda, has absorbed galaxies 30 times larger than those encountered by our own galaxy.

The Large Magellanic Cloud (seen here) is headed our way. This is an image from the Hubble Space Telescope. Image: NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

Galactic collisions are fairly common, and the process results in changes within the structure of the galaxies that can be dramatic. After this collision occurs, neither the Milky Way nor the Large Magellanic Cloud will look anything like they do today.

NASA talks about what will happen when the Andromeda Galaxy collides with our own family of stars.

Don’t give up on your credit card payments just yet — this collision isn’t happening for a long time!

The Cosmic Companion

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James Maynard is the author of two books, and thousands of articles about space and science. E-mail:

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