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Milky Way, Meet Andromeda

photo of andromeda galaxy

The Andromeda Galaxy

Credit: ESA/NASA/JPL-Caltech/NHSC

We’ve all heard a conspiracy theory or twenty about the end of the world. In fact as of 12/21/12, we can all say we’ve survived the end of the world again. But in 3.75 billion years, we may not be so lucky… or will we?

You may be wondering why this is being brought to your attention now when 3.75 billion years doesn’t really qualify as ‘urgent’. Blame it on NASA and the video they created out of images of the Earth’s night sky over the next four billion years. We won’t be around to see it with our own eyes, so why not appreciate the cause of such an event while we can?

After more than a century of speculating whether or not the future encounter will be a hit, miss, graze or head-on collision, astronomers have already determined when the collision of the neighboring Andromeda galaxy with our Milky Way galaxy will be.

photo of galaxies colliding

Credit: NASA; ESA; A. Felid and R. van der Marel, STSci

Computer simulations along with measurements care of the NASA Hubble Space Telescope show that the Andromeda galaxy, also called M31, is still 2.5 million light-years away, but is moving towards our galaxy at approximately 250,000 miles an hour. At that speed, you can travel from here to the moon is just one hour.

photos of colliding galaxies

Credit: NASA; ESA; Z Levay and R. van der Marel, STSci; T. Hallas, and A. Mellinger

See how the disk-shaped Andromeda galaxy grows noticeably larger until it fills the field of view? As it collides with the Milky Way, the sky is lit up with new star formation.

The good news? The Earth and the rest of our solar system should be safe from destruction, despite how colossal an event it’s going to be. Thanks to the Hubble telescope’s uber powerful cameras and photography skills, we can rest easy knowing that the Earth as we know it should be relatively safe from harm. Then again, 3.75 billion years is a long, long time.

Patricia Ramos the author

I am a freelance photographer who is no stranger to smudged lenses, long hours in front of the computer, heavy camera bags (and the back aches that ensued) and missing lens caps. If you know what I'm talking about, you probably have as much love and passion for photography as I do.

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