We Finally Know When Our Milky Way Will Crash Into the Andromeda Galaxy

A view of the Andromeda galaxy, likewise called M31, with measurements of the movements of stars within the galaxy. This spiral nebula is the nearby big next-door neighbor of our Milky Way.

Credit: ESA/Gaia (star movements); NASA/Galex (background image); R. van der Marel, M. Fardal, J. Sahlmann (STScI)

Our Milky Way galaxy will make it through in its present type a bit longer than some astronomers had actually believed, a brand-new research study recommends.

The beast crash in between our Milky Way and fellow spiral nebula Andromeda will happen about 4.5 billion years from now, according to the brand-new research study, which is based upon observations made by Europe’s Gaia spacecraft. Some popular previous price quotes had actually anticipated the crash would take place considerably quicker, in about 3.9 billion years.

“This finding is crucial to our understanding of how galaxies evolve and interact,” Gaia task researcher Timo Prusti, who was not associated with the research study, stated in a declaration. [Images: Milky Way Galaxy’s Crash with Andromeda]

Gaia released in December of 2013 to assist scientists develop the finest 3D map of the Milky Way ever built. The spacecraft has actually been specifically keeping track of the positions and motions of big varieties of stars and other cosmic items; the objective group intends to track more than 1 billion stars by the time Gaia shuts its sharp eyes for great.

The majority of the stars Gaia is considering remain in the Milky Way, however some remain in neighboring galaxies. In the brand-new research study, the scientists tracked a variety of stars in our galaxy, in Andromeda (likewise called M31) and in the spiral Triangulum (or M33). These next-door neighbor galaxies are within 2.5 million to 3 million light-years of the Milky Way and might be communicating with each other, research study staff member stated.

“We needed to explore the galaxies’ motions in 3D to uncover how they have grown and evolved and what creates and influences their features and behavior,” lead author Roeland van der Marel, of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, stated in the very same declaration.

“We were able to do this using the second package of high-quality data released by Gaia,” van der Marel included, describing a haul launched in April 2018.

The future orbital trajectories of three spiral galaxies: our Milky Way (blue); Andromeda, also known as M31 (red); and Triangulum, also known as M33 (green). The Milky Way and Andromeda will collide about 4.5 billion years from now, a new study based on observations by Europe's Gaia spacecraft suggests.

The future orbital trajectories of 3 spiral nebula: our Milky Way (blue); Andromeda, likewise called M31 (red); and Triangulum, likewise called M33 (green). The Milky Way and Andromeda will clash about 4.5 billion years from now, a brand-new research study based upon observations by Europe’s Gaia spacecraft recommends.

Credit: Orbits: E. Patel, G. Besla (University of Arizona), R. van der Marel (STScI). Images: ESA (Milky Way), ESA/Gaia/DPAC (M31, M33)

This work enabled the group to figure out the rotation rates of both M31 and M33 — something that had actually never ever been done in the past, the scientists stated. Utilizing the Gaia-derived findings and analyses of archival info, the research study group drew up how M31 and M33 have actually moved through space in the past and where they’ll likely discuss the next couple of billion years.

The group’s designs offer a later-than-expected date for the Andromeda-Milky Way smashup and likewise recommend that it will be more of a sideswipe than a head-on crash. (Since the ranges in between stars are so excellent, the chances that our own planetary system will be interfered with by the merger are really low. However the crash will certainly perk up the night sky for any animals that are around in the world 4.5 billion years from now.)

“Gaia was designed primarily for mapping stars within the Milky Way — but this new study shows that the satellite is exceeding expectations and can provide unique insights into the structure and dynamics of galaxies beyond the realm of our own,” Prusti stated. “The longer [that] Gaia watches the small motions of these galaxies throughout the sky, the more exact our measurements will end up being.”

The brand-new research study was released this month in The Astrophysical Journal.

By the way, Andromeda will not be the next galaxy our Milky Way knocks into: The Big Magellanic Cloud and Milky Way will combine about 2.5 billion years from now, a current research study recommended.

Mike Wall’s book about the look for alien life, “Out There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; shown by Karl Tate), is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us @Spacedotcom or Facebook. Initially released on Space.com. 

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