Possibly the most intriguing bit of news I’ve heard in the past few weeks is the new level of certainty reached by scientists that our Milky Way Galaxy and the Andromeda Galaxy will merge in about 4 billion years.
There had been some doubt. Sky watchers have noticed the movements and have wondered if the two galaxies might be drawn together by their gravity – this at a time when the universe itself is expanding faster and faster, leaving even more emptiness between the objects. But these two galaxies are close enough that the expansion will not draw them apart.
Galaxies, as big as they are, have their own destiny and ours apparently is to join with Andromeda.
We’re talking about billions of stars, some (maybe all) dragging a retinue of planets, asteroids, comets and debris, coming together in one grand conglomeration. And yet none of the stars will hit each other! This was said with certainty in one article I read – yet how can they know?
And if the merger of two galaxies is anything like the acquisition/merger of two corporations here on Earth, there are bound to be casualties. Several hundred duplicate retail outlets and half the staff of the PR department, for example.
Two things drove the magnitude of this event home for me –
One is a video simulation of the galaxies as they are expected to interact – an initial co-mingling 4 billion years from now with momentum that carries them apart again, and a final, second alignment 2 billion years later. Looks like fun if you’re not in the middle of it!
The other is a simulation of the night sky as seen from Earth with Andromeda approaching – about 3.75 billion years from now. Imagine if you went outside and saw this.
Beautiful, romantic, and a bit like looking down the train tracks at the onrushing southbound commuter as your wheels spin in the mud. Gulp.
Who knows if we, as humans, will still be around to witness the merger? Probably not. But I did see a cockroach the other day and I tried to tell him (her?) to keep an eye on the sky for big changes. I got the usual disappearing act for an answer.
In such an unpredictable world, I’m amazed whenever we KNOW something is going to happen for certain and for sure. Galaxies will collide. Neither Congress nor the Koch brothers will be able to stall it or stop it or spin it.
As in corporate mergers, making everyone feel comfortable with joining the new entity will be a challenge. Maybe a clever name and some good signage will help.
What should we call the new galaxy?