Apocalypse: What Happens When Galaxies Collide?

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Scientists successfully captured a series of images they say show what happens when galaxies collide and merge. In such an event, a huge explosion occurs, combining supermassive black holes into one giant black hole.

Scientists believe that in the distant future, our own Milky Way galaxy could collide with the neighboring galaxy Andromeda. A team of scientists led by Eureka Scientific researcher Michael Koss captured the images which show what happens when galaxies collide.

“Seeing the pairs of merging galaxy nuclei associated with these huge black holes so close together was pretty amazing,” Koss said in a statement. “In our study, we see two galaxy nuclei right when the images were taken. You can’t argue with it; it’s a very ‘clean’ result, which doesn’t rely on interpretation.”

The images were taken by the Hubble Telescope’s Wide Field Camera 3, and they show the galaxy NGC 6240. The team found that the black holes at the center of the colliding galaxies started expanding “as they feast on gas kicked up by the galaxy merger,” they explained in the statement.

They believe the black holes were expanding over the last 10 million to 20 million years of the merger. They also believe that if there are any more pairs of black holes, they will merge within the next 10 million years and form a massive black hole.

To get the images, they looked for active, “visually obscured” black holes and then looked through 10 years of X-ray data from the Burst Alert Telescope (BAT)

“The advantage to using Swift’s BAT is that it observes high-energy, ‘hard’ X-rays,” study co-author Richard Mushotzky said in the statement. “These X-rays penetrate through the thick clouds of dust and gas that surround active galaxies, allowing the BAT to see things that are literally invisible in other wavelengths.”

Scientists believe a similar event will occur when our Milky Way galaxy collides with the Andromeda galaxy. However, researchers don’t expect that to occur anytime soon.

“The images also presage what will likely happen in a few billion years, when our Milky Way galaxy merges with the neighboring Andromeda galaxy,” the statement reads. “Both galaxies host supermassive black holes at their center, which will eventually smash together and merge into one larger black hole.”

Earlier this year, NASA showed a video simulation of what they think will happen when the Andromeda and Milky Way galaxies collide.

“The thin disk shapes of these spiral galaxies are strongly distorted and irrevocably transformed by the encounter,” NASA wrote in a statement accompanying the video. “Around 6 billion years from now, the two galaxies will merge to form a single elliptical galaxy.”

Even though a huge collision is expected when the two galaxies collide, leading to the destruction of our own galaxy, don’t be spooked. When that happens, the humanity may no longer exist.

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