Science & Tech

Galactic collision reveals fate of Milky Way galaxy

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New generation of stars born

Sixty-eight million light-years away, the Antennae galaxies are locked in a dance of death, with stars being ripped from their orbits and spiral arms being shredded into streamers that dangle in space. Several billion years from now, our home — the Milky Way galaxy — might look the same as the Andromeda galaxy smashes into it like a bulldozer through a condemned building. Yet this distant galactic collision we see today is not yielding death, but creating new life. With its heat-seeking eyes, Spitzer was able to see past the dark storm of dust that blankets the heart of the merging Antennae galaxies to a hidden population of new stars emerging inside. “This more complete picture of star formation in the Antennae will help us better understand the evolution of colliding galaxies, and the eventual fate of our own,” said Giovanni Fazio, a co-author of the research and an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). Fazio is principal investigator for the Infrared Array Camera on Spitzer, which captured the new Antennae image. In the latest Antennae galaxies study, Spitzer found a new generation of stars at the site where the two galaxies clash.