What happens when two galaxies collide? The Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy are on a collision course, and in about 4.5 billion years, they will meet. Now astronomers using the Hubble have provided some visual insight into what that collision might look like.
This delicate smudge in deep space is far more turbulent than it first appears. Known as IRAS 14348-1447 — a name derived in part from that of its discoverer, the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS for short) — this celestial object is actually a combination of two gas-rich spiral galaxies. This doomed duo approached one another too closely in the past, gravity causing them to affect and tug at each other and slowly, destructively, merge into one. The image was taken by Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS).
We don’t want to scare you, but our own Milky Way is on a collision course with Andromeda, the closest spiral galaxy to our own. At some point during the next few billion years, our galaxy and Andromeda – which also happen to be the two largest galaxies in the Local Group – are going to come together, and with catastrophic consequences.