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The Enemy Among Us

We have a new enemy in our midst. One that has been quietly circling around our galaxy,  but now it could send our Solar System hurtling out of the Milky Way and into the obscurity of interstellar space.

Our new enemy goes by the name Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), and while this entity is one of  the more researched satellite galaxies buzzing around our milky way, astrophysicists are only beginning to see it for what it truly is: an unusually large cosmic threat.

According to new research, the LMC is doomed to collide with our own galaxy, and this event might happen far sooner than we thought.

The event is not immediate, but is expected to happen within the next two billion years and on the off chance that humans survive this time period, our descendants will be in for a treat. 

When the two galaxies collide, it’s likely to cause the black hole at the center of our galaxy to react, which would begin to swallow everything within range, growing up to ten times its size.

As the black hole feeds on surrounding gas, the stage will be set and the show will begin – what the researchers describe as a “spectacular display of cosmic fireworks.”

“This phenomenon will generate powerful jets of high energy radiation emanating from just outside the black hole,” explains lead author Marius Cautun, a cosmologist at Durham University.

“While this will not affect our Solar System, there is a small chance that we might not escape unscathed from the collision between the two galaxies which could knock us out of the Milky Way and into interstellar space.”

Two billion years may appear as though far off, yet it’s quite short on enormous timescales. It’s additionally six billion years sooner than the anticipated collision between the Milky Way and our nearest neighboring cosmic system, Andromeda.

Collision and mergers are not strange subjects when it comes to galaxies, however our galaxy has managed to get by relatively unscathed so far and is long overdue for such a collision this is specially when you consider the company that it keeps.

The Milky Way is encompassed by a gathering of littler satellite systems, circling unobtrusively around us.

These cosmic systems can have separate existences for a large number of years, yet now and again, they can wind up sinking into the focal point of their host world, until finally they impact and are gobbled up totally.

Along these lines, systems are always developing and developing, however the Milky Way’s poor craving makes it very atypical.

In contrast with our own galaxy, for example, Andromeda can eat up cosmic systems weighing about thirty times more.

“We think that up to now our galaxy has had only a few mergers with very low mass galaxies,” says co-author Alis Deason, a computational cosmologist at Durham University.

“This represents very slim pickings when compared to nearby galaxies of the same size as the Milky Way.”

The LMC will be our first meal in a while. Even though it only moved into our neighbourhood about 1.5 billion years ago, it has crept unnervingly close, sitting 163,000 light-years away from our galaxy – less than a tenth of the distance to Andromeda.

Experts used to think it would hover unobtrusively around us for some progressively billions of years, possibly getting away from our cosmic system’s gravitational pull.

But recent measurements suggest it has nearly twice as much dark matter as we bargained on.

Considering this larger-than-expected mass, the researchers say the LMC is rapidly losing energy. And as it slows down, it won’t be able to escape our galaxy’s clutches.

“The destruction of the Large Magellanic Cloud, as it is devoured by the Milky Way, will wreak havoc with our galaxy, waking up the black hole that lives at its centre and turning our galaxy into an ‘active galactic nucleus’ or quasar,” says Cautun.

So much for keeping your enemies closer.

This study has been published by The Royal Astronomical Society.

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