A team led by researchers from the UK's Durham University says the threat of another galaxy colliding with the Milky Way could happen much sooner than previously thought and might send our entire solar system hurtling off in a new direction.
Fortunately for us, and probably for everything and everyone we'll ever know, this collision between the Milky Way and the smaller galaxy known as the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) probably won't happen for 2 billion years. The event isn't expected to take place for another 2.5 billion years or so, and if mankind hasn't already turned Earth into an uninhabitable wasteland on its own, we'll surely have had long enough to come up with an exit strategy if one is needed.
A catastrophic crash could wake up a dormant black hole in the Milky Way, which would begin devouring surrounding gas, expand in size by up to 10 times and, potentially, fling the Solar System into intergalactic space.
'This phenomenon will generate powerful jets of high energy radiation emanating from just outside the black hole.More news: Paris protesters try to revive yellow vest movement
"While two billion years is an extremely long time compared to a human lifetime, it is a very short time on cosmic timescales", said astrophysicist Marius Cautun, with Durham University's Institute for Computational Cosmology. It's also six billion years sooner than the predicted impact between the Milky Way and our closest neighbouring galaxy, Andromeda. So far, it has managed to get by relatively unscathed in the grand scheme of things. Astronomers hadn't previously pegged the smaller galaxy as a compelling collision candidate, thinking instead that the fast-moving LMC would continue orbiting the Milky Way (MW) for eons or eventually escape and go on its merry way.
These galaxies can lead separate lives for many billions of years, but on occasion, they can find themselves sinking into the centre of their host galaxy, until at last they collide and are swallowed up completely.
In this way, galaxies are constantly evolving and growing, but the Milky Way's poor appetite makes it quite atypical. For example, our nearest neighbour, the Andromeda galaxy, devoured galaxies weighing almost 30 times more than those consumed by the Milky Way.
The Milky Way is on a collision course with a nearby galaxy.More news: Tyler Trent honored by Purdue Basketball ahead of win against Iowa
The LMC will be our first meal in a while.
If the mega-merger happens, it is expected to have a drastic effect on the black hole at the center of our galaxy. And as it slows down, it won't be able to escape our galaxy's clutches.
The Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, is about 200,000 light-years from Earth.More news: Zola tells Morata he must learn to cope with pressure at Chelsea
So much for keeping your enemies closer.