A Cannibalistic Galaxy Is Now Approaching The Milky Way, Scientists Warn

A giant galaxy that has been eating other nearby and smaller galaxies is now approaching the Milky Way. Astronomers found that the cannibalistic Andromeda is now on its new path after it consumed hundreds of galaxies over the last few billion years.

Andromeda is the largest and closest galaxy to the Milky Way. Astronomers said this active cosmic neighbor has been growing but maintaining its strong appetite.

The Andromeda galaxy’s latest meal was M32p, which was the third largest galaxy behind the Milky Way, CNN reported Wednesday. Astronomers said M32p was our galaxy’s long-lost sibling. 

A new study shows that Andromeda is now on a collision course with the Milky Way. Researchers predict that it may take nearly four billion years before the two galaxies merge. 

“Knowing what kind of a monster our galaxy is up against is useful in finding out the Milky Way's ultimate fate," Dougal Mackey, study author from the Australian National University's Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, said. "Andromeda has a much bigger and more complex stellar halo than the Milky Way, which indicates that it has cannibalized many more galaxies, possibly larger ones."

Mackey and his team observed Andromeda's movement by monitoring the large streams of stars in its galactic halo. The researchers said the streams are the leftovers from the galaxy’s previous meals. 

They also found traces of small galaxies Andromeda consumed over the past 10 billion years. To see its next path, the researchers followed clusters of stars that once belonged to other galaxies consumed by the monster galaxy.

"By tracing the faint remains of these smaller galaxies with embedded star clusters, we've been able to recreate the way Andromeda drew them in and ultimately enveloped them at the different times," Mackey said.

But one finding that surprised the researchers is that Andromeda did not maintain a straight path. It consumed galaxies in different directions that appear like a “plane of satellites,” according to Geraint Lewis, study co-author and professor at the Sydney Institute for Astronomy and University of Sydney School of Physics. 

What Will Happen To Earth?

It sounds scary that something cannibalistic like Andromeda is set to eat our galaxy. But the researchers noted Earth may not suffer from such massive event. 

Mackey said during galactic mergers, collisions between stars rarely happen. However, there is a chance that the collision might throw the Sun away from its orbit towards an intergalactic space, which could end life on Earth.

galaxy A view of the galaxy from Earth's atmosphere. Pixabay