We've been inundated with reports of the end of the world as we know it coming as early as this year according to a supposed Mayan doomsday prophecy, but the latest prediction of the end of the entire Milky Way galaxy as we know it comes from a more reliable and certainly more contemporary source: NASA.NASA/CXC/UMass Amherst/Q.D.Wang et al.
According to a new NASA report, our galaxy is destined to perish in a head-on collision with its closest galactic neighbor, Andromeda. The end result of that collision will be that both galaxies will merge and become a single elliptical (oval) galaxy.
Despite the fact that both galaxies contain billions of stars and planets, the distance between each star is so great that there is little danger to individual stars. Individual solar systems like ours should actually pass through the collision and merge unchanged. In other words, although the entire Milky Way galaxy may come to an end, anyone living on Earth at the time will hardly notice unless they look for Orion or other familiar constellations in the night sky, or as R.E.M. might have said it "It's the end of the galaxy as we know, but you'll feel fine."
Galaxies Drawn Together by Irresistible Force
The Milky Way and Andromeda say NASA scientists are being drawn toward each other by the force of their combined gravity. As they merge, the stars contained in each galaxy will shift into random orbits about a new galactic center of gravity. NASA computer models suggest that our own sun will be flung to an orbit even further from the center of the new galaxy than we from the center of the Milky Way today.
The National Optical Astronomy Observatory describes Andromeda, also known as M31, as a galaxy very much like the Milky Way, but slightly larger. Both are spiral galaxies with two arms spinning around a dense center. Andromeda measures 65,000 light years in diameter, which is to say that a beam of light beginning at one edge of M31 would take 65,000 years to reach the other side.
NASA Timetable for the End of the Galaxy
While the NOAO says Andromeda is 2.2 million light years away from us, NASA puts the figure at 2.5 million. Either way, says the Science@NASA report, the distance is closing at a rate of 250 million miles per hour. At that speed, NASA says the ETA of the collision is about four billion years from now. That gives us slightly more time to prepare than the Mayan 2012 doomsday prophecy.
Of course, long before then, according to Universe Today, the sun will have increased its output of solar radiation enough to boil off all of Earth's oceans and rendering the planet uninhabitable for humans and most life as we know it.