‘Cannibalistic’ nearby galaxy has devoured several of its neighbours – and our Milky Way is next


THE CANNIBALISTIC past of our neighbouring large galaxy has been pieced together by astronomers and they think the Milky Way could be next on the menu.

The Andromeda galaxy has devoured several smaller galaxies within the last few billion years and has left a few crumbs of evidence, according to the research.

Andromeda has eaten several smaller galaxies, likely within the last few billion years, with left-overs found in large streams of stars
Dougal Mackey, ANU

Galaxies end up running into each other every so often because of their huge gravitational pulls.

When this happens the bigger galaxy ends up ‘consuming’ the smaller one.

Faint traces of more small galaxies that Andromeda gobbled up potentially as far as 10 billion years ago have also been found.

Co-leader of the study Dr Dougal Mackey from Australian National University said: “The Milky Way is on a collision course with Andromeda in about four billion years.”

Getty – Contributor

The Milky Way will collide with Andromeda in about four billion years[/caption]

He added: “Knowing what kind of a monster our galaxy is up against is useful in finding out the Milky Way’s ultimate fate.

“Andromeda has a much bigger and more complex stellar halo than the Milky Way, which indicates that it has cannibalised many more galaxies, possibly larger ones.”

The researchers studied dense groups of stars known as globular clusters to work out the ancient ‘mealtimes’ of Andromeda.

Mackey said: “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 time.”

Their results brought up mysteries as well as answers because the scientists are now baffled as to why the galactic feeding was coming from completely different directions.

Professor Lewis from the Sydney Institute for Astronomy and University of Sydney School of Physics: “This is very weird and suggests that the extragalactic meals are fed from what’s known as the ‘cosmic web’ of matter that threads the universe.

“More surprising is the discovery that the direction of the ancient feeding is the same as the bizarre ‘plane of satellites’, an unexpected alignment of dwarf galaxies orbiting Andromeda.”

The professor added: “We’re going to have to think quite hard to unravel what this is telling us.”

The study has been published in the journal Nature.

Milky Way facts

Here's some things you might not have known about our galaxy…

  • The Milky Way is almost as old as the Universe itself with recently estimates suggestings that the Universe is around 13.7 or 13.8billion years old and the Milky Way is thought to be about 13.6billion years old
  • the Milky Way is disk shaped and measures about 120,000 light years across
  • It has a supermassive black hole in the middle called Sagittarius A*
  • It contains over 200 billion stars
  • It is thought to have an invisible halo made of dark matter

In other news, an asteroid larger than a London bus will fly closer to Earth than the Moon tomorrow, Nasa warns.

A planet so massive ‘it should not exist’ has been found by baffled astronomers in a nearby star system.

And, distant planets may host even more life than we have here on Earth, according to one shock study.

What do you think about this ‘greedy’ galaxy? Let us know in the comments…

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