The Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) galaxy is on collision course with the Milky Way and could knock the Solar System into what is currently interstellar space, a new study by scientists from Durham University claims.
According to scientists, this collision could happen within the next two billion years, much earlier than another predicted collision between the Milky Way and the Andromeda galaxy, which scientists estimate to occur in eight billion years.
The LMC is a satellite galaxy of Milky Way, located about 163,000 light years from it. It started circling the Milky Way about 1.5 billion years ago.
Satellite galaxies usually circle around their host galaxies for billions of years. But, sometimes, they get pulled toward the centre of the host galaxy and are devoured by their host.
Recent studies have indicated that the LMC has about twice as much dark matter than earlier predicted. Since the LMC therefore has greater mass, scientists believe it could be losing its mass quickly and could collide with the Milky Way sometime in the future.
In the current study, the research team, involving astrophysicists from Durham University's Institute for Computational Cosmology and the University of Helsinki, in Finland, ran computer simulations on the movement of the LMC.
They used the EAGLE galaxy formation supercomputer to run the simulations, which showed that the LMC is moving towards the Milky Way at a speed of 250 miles per second. The results also indicated that its approach speed will eventually slow down, but it will nevertheless collide with the Milky Way in about two billion years' time.
"While two billion years is an extremely long time compared to a human lifetime, it is a very short time on cosmic timescales," said Dr Marius Cautun, a post-doctoral fellow at the Institute for Computational Cosmology and the lead author of the study.
The catastrophic collision could also wake up the dormant black hole in the Milky Way, which would start increasing its size by consuming surrounding gases.
"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' or quasar," Cautun added.
There is also a little chance of this collision knocking our solar system "out of the Milky Way and into interstellar space", he continued.
The findings of the study are published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
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