Our Milky Way is headed for a 'catastrophic collision with another galaxy'

Dark matter halo surrounding galaxy, illustration

Dark matter halo surrounding galaxy, illustration

Astrophysicists from Durham University have shown that a nearby galaxy is set to slam into the Milky Way, potentially ejecting our solar system into outer space.

The discovery was made when astronomers ran computer simulations on the movement of the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), one of the satellite galaxies that orbits the Milky Way. This showed that the LMC is not going to keep circulating, or break free from the Milky Way's gravitational pull, rather it will eventually smash into our galaxy.

While individual stars and planets are unlikely to collide, the arrival of a galaxy weighing as much as 250 billion stars will still cause chaos.

Dark matter halo surrounding galaxy, illustration

Carlos Frenk, director of the Institute for Computational Cosmology at Durham University told the Guardian: "The whole of the Milky Way will be shaken and the entire solar system could be ejected into outer space. If that happens, I don't see how our descendants, if we have any, will be able to withstand it."

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A picture taken on February 18, 2014 shows a flock of migrating starlings performing its traditional dance fly before landing to sleep in the Israeli Jordan Valley near the city of Beit Shean. AFP PHOTO/MENAHEM KAHANA (Photo credit should read MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken on February 18, 2014 shows a flock of migrating starlings performing its traditional dance fly before landing to sleep in the Israeli Jordan Valley near the city of Beit Shean. AFP PHOTO/MENAHEM KAHANA (Photo credit should read MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)
A flock of migrating starlings is seen as they perform their traditional dance fly before landing to sleep during the sunset near the southern Israeli village of Tidhar, in the northern Israeli Negev desert, on February 12, 2014. AFP PHOTO/MENAHEM KAHANA (Photo credit should read MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)
A flock of migrating starlings is seen as they perform their traditional dance fly before land to sleep during the sunset near the southern Israeli village of Tidhar in the northern Israeli Negev desert on February 11, 2014. AFP PHOTO/MENAHEM KAHANA (Photo credit should read MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)
A flock of migrating starlings is seen as they perform their traditional dance fly before land to sleep during the sunset near the southern Israeli village of Tidhar in the northern Israeli Negev desert on February 11, 2014. AFP PHOTO/MENAHEM KAHANA (Photo credit should read MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)
HULA LAKE, ISRAEL - NOVEMBER 26: (ISRAEL OUT) Migrating gray cranes fly over the Hula Lake on November 26, 2013 in northern Israel. The tens of thousands of cranes which break their southward migration to and from Africa from as far away as Siberia spend a few days at the lakes feeding in farmer's fields and gathering their strength for their onward journeys. An estimated 500 million birds fly over Israel twice a year in their annual migrations. (Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)
EMEK HEFER, ISRAEL - NOVEMBER 21: (ISRAEL OUT) Migratory pelicans line up as they break their southward migration at an agricultural water reservoir on November 21, 2013 in Emek Hefer Valley, Israel. The thousands of pelicans which break their southward migration spend a few days at the reservoir feeding in farmers' fields and gathering their strength for their onward journeys. An estimated 500 million birds fly over the Holy Land twice a year in their annual migrations. (Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)
HERGLA, TUNISIA - DECEMBER 17: Migratory birds stand on a tree on December 17, 2013 in Hergla, Tunisia. Hergla is a small cliff-top town in northeastern Tunisia off the Gulf of Hammamet. In the roman period Hergla was the boarder town between the historic regions Byzacena and Zeugitana. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
Storks fly over the border between Turkey and Syria, as they prepare to migrate on September 1, 2013, in Hatay. AFP PHOTO / BULENT KILIC (Photo credit should read BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)
LEIGH-ON-SEA, UNITED KINGDOM - OCTOBER 02: Thousands of Brent Geese gather at Two Tree Island in the Thames Estuary on October 02, 2013 in Leigh on Sea, England. Each year Brent Geese make a dangerous 2,500 mile journey from Siberia to spend the winter around our coast with up to ten thousand settling in the Thames Estuary. (Photo by John Keeble/Getty Images)
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On the other hand, the chances of the collision casting our solar system into another region of space are low. Marius Cautun, the first author on the paper, said the chances of this are only 1-3%.

The impending collision with the much larger Andromeda Galaxy has preoccupied those looking to forecast the end of our galaxy up to now. Five times the mass of the Large Magellanic Cloud, Andromeda could completely destroy the Milky Way when the two collide. However, this cosmic catastrophe is forecast to occur in about four billion years' time.

Dark matter halo surrounding galaxy, illustration

Therefore, as the collision with the LMC is predicted to happen in just 2 billion years time it could postpone or otherwise affect the Andromeda cataclysm. "One of the by-products of the collision with the LMC is it will delay armageddon," said Frenk. "It will move the Milky Way a bit and that may buy us a couple of billion years.

"The LMC is big but it won't completely destroy our galaxy," he said. "It'll produce these amazing fireworks, but it doesn't have the mass to create a huge disturbance. The collision with Andromeda really will be armageddon. That really will be the end of the Milky Way as we know it."

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