It is a natural and common process for galaxies to collide. Collisions and near collisions cause many galaxies to have very unusual-looking and form their very irregular shapes.
During the 1920’s and 30’s, Edwin Hubble (1889 – 1953),) the American astronomer Edwin Hubble, discovered that the Universe is expanding, with galaxies moving away from each other. But despite the universe expansion, these collisions occur because a powerful battle of forces makes the collision process happen.
Many galaxies have been formed due to collisions of several smaller galaxies. The explanation should be sought in the balance of the universe’s expansion, which is trying to pull them apart and gravity, which is trying to pull them together, close to each other.
Galaxies that are much closer together are not able to resist the power of gravity. They experience their mutual and powerful gravitational pulls, which distort the shapes of them and draw them together. Of course, it takes hundreds of millions of years, but in the end the collision will happen. Once again, gravity prevails.
In our local galaxy cluster, for example, the Milky Way has three known neighboring galaxies within about one Milky Way diameter, so one can safely assume that collision or near collision may occur. Observations of the night sky confirm that every single galaxy is speeding away from us, carried by the expansion of the Universe.
Our own Milky Way (with a mass some 3 trillion times the mass of the Sun) and the Andromeda Galaxy (also known as Messier 31, M31) which represent the two dominant giant spiral galaxies of our local galaxy cluster, constitute an exception.
The massive Andromeda Galaxy, is speeding towards us at a rate of 120 km/s and according to the most detailed measurements yet, scientists have discovered that our Milky Way, is moving at 600,000mph, 100,000mph faster than originally thought.
These two galaxies (both of them are very heavy) are consistently coming closer to each other, despite their distance, which is over two million light years. What does it mean? It means that the Milky Way and Andromeda will smash into each other because they were steadily moving together over the billions of years. Now, they are 2.6 million light-years apart.
And what will happen with the stars within these galaxies? How are the stars influenced by the process of colliding of galaxies?
Interesting is that galaxies are much more likely to collide or have near collisions than the stars that they contain. When galaxies collide, the stars that comprise the major portion of the luminous mass of the colliding galaxies will almost never strike each other directly, since their physical size is so tiny compared with the vast spaces between them.
Typically, the stars will pass freely between each other, with little obvious evidence in the aftermath that anything has happened. The main reason of this phenomenon is that galaxies are much closer together relative to their sizes, than the stars. For example, the nearest star to the Sun is about 30 million solar diameters away! It is very far away.
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Based on the recent research presented by the American Astronomical Society in Long Beach, California, the collision will happen around the same time our sun is due to burn up the last of its nuclear fuel, within the next seven billion years and not in about 3 billion years as it was previously estimated.
We are destined for a collision in a few billion years. This collision will form a new large galaxy… a massive, elliptical galaxy.
But don’t worry… because there is nothing to worry about; by that time, it will not matter for our planet anymore because our Sun will have run out of its fuel.
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