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Cosmic collision is a Preview of What Scientists Say is to Come for the Milky Way

A galaxy merger, one of the most magnificent phenomena in the cosmos, has been spotted 60 million light-years from Earth, close to the Virgo constellation. New images depict two galaxies on the verge of colliding, as they were approximately 60 million years ago. Scientists think it foreshadows what our own galaxy, the Milky Way, may experience in the future.

Gemini North, a telescope operated by the International Gemini Observatory, recorded the approaching merger. The distance between the centres of the two spiral galaxies, NGC 4568 and NGC 4567, when the photographs were taken was 20,000 light-years, or about the same as the distance from Earth to the centre of the Milky Way. However, as they approach one another, the magnitude of the collision will be unleashed.

According to NOIRLab, which runs the observatory for the National Science Foundation, “their competing gravitational forces will spark bursts of furious star creation and drastically deform their once-majestic shapes.” The galaxies will swing past one another over millions of years in ever-tighter loops, producing “long streamers of stars and gas.” Eventually, NOIRLab predicted, they’ll be so intertwined that a single galaxy will “emerge from the turmoil” without the gas or dust necessary to produce stars. The Milky Way will probably merge with the Andromeda Galaxy in around 5 billion years, so as captivating as watching the collision is, it also provides a bleak glimpse into the future of our galaxy.

When the Hubble Space Telescope discovered that Andromeda is “inexorably plunging into the Milky Way” at around 250,000 miles per hour, which is fast enough to go from Earth to the moon in an hour, NASA declared such a fate in 2012. However, according to NASA, the stars within each of the galaxies will be so far apart that they won’t crash, but rather will be sent into various orbits around the new galaxy’s merged core.

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