By Brandon Specktor
The end of the Milky Way as we know it may come a few billion years ahead of schedule.
According to a new paper published Jan. 4 in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, our home galaxy appears to be on a crash course with one of its nearest satellites, the spiral of stars known as the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC).
This cosmic crash, modeled in lovely and terrifying detail by a team of astrophysicists at Durham University in the U.K., could begin as soon as 2 billion years from now — roughly 2 billion to 3 billion years sooner than the long-anticipated collision between the Milky Way and its nearest cosmic neighbor, the Andromeda Galaxy. (Adjust your doomsday clocks accordingly.)
While the LMC boasts only about one-twentieth the solar mass of the Milky Way, the collision would nevertheless leave permanent scars on both galaxies, igniting once-dormant black holes, flinging stars quadrillions of miles out of orbit and staining the sky with crackling cosmic radiation.
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