Earth's final destiny

Aug 26, 2005
Earth's final destiny

In the constellation of Pisces, some 100 million light-years from Earth, two galaxies are seen to collide - providing an eerie insight into the ultimate fate of our own planet when the Milky Way fatally merges with our neighbouring galaxy of Andromeda.

Image: see below

The image of the intertwined galaxies was captured on the night of 13-14th July 2005 by the Gemini Multi-Object Spectrograph [GMOS] instrument fitted to the 8-metre class Gemini North Observatory, sited on Mauna Kea, Hawaii.

Prof. Ian Robson, Director of the UK Astronomy Technology Centre which built GMOS in collaboration with other partners said," This is quite scary. Since GMOS was installed on the telescope back in 2001 it has taken some amazing astronomical images of very faint, distant galaxies and star forming regions, providing a wealth of scientific data, but this one sends shivers down my spine. Our saving grace is that we have about 5 billion years left before we get swallowed up by Andromeda. Nevertheless, it's amazing to see so far in advance how planet Earth and our own galaxy will ultimately end. Glad to say I won't be around when the fireball happens".

The image of the combined galaxies, which are known as NGC 520, may be fairly early in their galactic dance of death and it is likely that the situation has changed dramatically in the time it has taken for their light to reach Earth*.

Prof. Robson added, "Hints of new star formation taking place can be seen in the faint red glowing areas above and beneath the middle of the image. Perhaps even now the galaxies have totally combined to form a whole new galaxy with a brand new set of stars and associated planets - and maybe new life on one of those planets!"

The unique shape of NGC 520 is the result of the two galaxies colliding. One galaxy's dust lane can be seen easily in the foreground and a distant tail is visible at the bottom centre. These features are the result of the gravitational interactions that have robbed both galaxies of their original shapes.

Image caption:
NGC 520 has a unique shape that is the result of two galaxies colliding with each other. One galaxy's dust lane can be seen easily in the foreground and a distinct tail is visible at bottom centre. These features are a result of the gravitational interactions that have robbed both of the galaxies of their original shapes. Some astronomers speculate that each member of the pair was originally similar to the Milky Way and Andromeda Galaxy. This collision could be providing us a glimpse at what might happen to our own galaxy in about five billion years as the Andromeda Galaxy collides with our Milky Way.

Estimated to lie some 100 million light-years away in the direction of the constellation Pisces, these galaxies have likely changed significantly in the time it has taken for their light to reach us. This view may be fairly early in the galactic dance that these galaxies have been performing. Hints of star formation (faint red glowing areas above and beneath the middle of the image) may have become more pronounced during the course of the collision.
Many background galaxies also appear in this image. They represent galaxy evolution at an even earlier epoch in the history of the universe.
This image of NGC 520 was obtained on the night of July 13-14, 2005 at the Gemini North Telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii.
Credit: Gemini Observatory

Source: PPARC

Explore further: Pink cloud visible in Arizona after New Mexico rocket launch

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Fresh nuclear leak detected at Fukushima plant

2 hours ago

Sensors at the Fukushima nuclear plant have detected a fresh leak of highly radioactive water to the sea, the plant's operator announced Sunday, highlighting difficulties in decommissioning the crippled plant.

Spacewalking astronauts route cable in 1st of 3 jobs

2 hours ago

(AP)—Spacewalking astronauts routed more than 300 feet (90 meters) of cable outside the International Space Station on Saturday, tricky and tiring advance work for the arrival of new American-made crew ...

Driverless shuttle will be on the move in UK

4 hours ago

(Phys.org) —"Autonomous public transport" is on the minds of planners who envision self-driving vehicles that would cross over short distances, suited for airport transport, industrial sites, theme parks ...

Superfish points fingers over ad software security flaws

6 hours ago

A little-known Silicon Valley startup was caught in a firestorm of criticism this week for making software that exposed Lenovo laptop users to hackers bent on stealing personal information. But Superfish Inc. ...

Recommended for you

'Bright spot' on Ceres has dimmer companion

2 hours ago

Dwarf planet Ceres continues to puzzle scientists as NASA's Dawn spacecraft gets closer to being captured into orbit around the object. The latest images from Dawn, taken nearly 29,000 miles (46,000 kilometers) ...

New insight found in black hole collisions

7 hours ago

New research by an astrophysicist at The University of Texas at Dallas provides revelations about the most energetic event in the universe—the merging of two spinning, orbiting black holes into a much larger ...

Looking deeply into the universe in 3-D

8 hours ago

The MUSE instrument on ESO's Very Large Telescope has given astronomers the best ever three-dimensional view of the deep Universe. After staring at the Hubble Deep Field South region for only 27 hours, the ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.