We finally know when our Milky way will crash into Andromeda galaxy

A view of the Andromeda galaxy, also known as M31, with measurements of the motions of stars in the milky way. This spiral galaxy is the nearest large neighbor to our Milky way.
(ESA/Gaia (star motions); NASA/Galex (background image); R. van der Marel, M. Fardal, J. Sahlmann (STScI))

Our Milky way will survive in its current form a bit longer than some astronomers thought, a new study suggests.

The monster collision between our Galaxy and companion spiral galaxy, Andromeda will take place in approximately 4.5 billion years from now, according to the new research, which is based on observations by the european Gaia spacecraft. A number of prominent previous estimates had predicted that the crash would occur significantly earlier, in about 3.9 billion years.

“This finding is of crucial importance for our understanding of how galaxies evolve and interact,” Gaia project scientist Timo Prusti, who was not involved in the study, said in a statement. [Images: Milky way Galaxy’s Crash with Andromeda]

Gaia was launched in December 2013 to assist researchers in creating the finest 3D map of the Milky way ever built. The spacecraft is exactly the control on the positions and the movements of masses of stars and other cosmic objects; the mission of the team is committed to a job of more than 1 billion stars by the time Gaia will close its sharp eye for the good.

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Most of the stars Gaia is eyeing are in the Milky way, but some are in nearby galaxies. In the new study, the researchers kept track of a number of stars in our milky way, Andromeda (also known as M31) and in the spiral Triangulum (or M33). This neighbor galaxies are 2.5 million to 3 million light years from the Milky way and can interact with each other, study team members said.

“We need to explore the galaxies motions in 3D in order to discover how they have grown and evolved-and what makes and affects their properties and behavior,” lead author Roeland van der Marel of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, said in the same statement.

“We were able to do this with the second package of high-quality data released by Gaia,” van der Marel added, referring to a haul to be released in April 2018.

This work allowed the team to determine the rotation of the rates of both M31 and M33 — something that had never been done before, the researchers said. With the help of the Gaia-derived findings and analysis of archival records, the study team mapped how M31 and M33 have moved through the area in the past and where they will probably start in the next few billion years.

The team of the models gives a higher-than-expected date for the Andromeda Galaxy smashup and also indicate that it will be more of a sideswipe than a head-on collision. (Because the distances between the stars are so big, the chance that our solar system will be disrupted by the merger are very low. But the crash will certainly enliven the night sky for all the animals on the Earth, 4.5 billion years.)

“Gaia is designed primarily for the mapping of stars in the Milky way, but this new research shows that the satellite is exceeding expectations and offers unique insights into the structure and dynamics of galaxies that are outside the domain of our own,” Prusti said. “The more [that] Gaia watches the small movements of galaxies in the sky is, the more accurate the results of our measurements will be.”

The new research was published this month in The Astrophysical Journal.

By the way, Andromeda is not the next galaxy to our Milky way slams into: The Large Magellanic Cloud and the Milky way will merge approximately 2.5 billion years, a recent study suggested.

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