Take Me To The Other Side

NASA’s Hubble Shows Milky Way is Destined for Head-On Collision

As we look through our telescopes at the wide expanse and variety of space, one of the things that captures our attention and imagination are galaxies that have captured each other (like Galaxy NGC 6052). The enormity of these stellar star crashes are boggling. In fact, they happen often enough that we identify the various types.

Stay with me, here.

Satellite interaction –

A giant galaxy interacting with its satellites. More common than you might think, our own Milky Way galaxy is currently interacting with the Sagittarius Dwarf Elliptical Galaxy. In fact, the SDEG is diving right into our galaxy like the idiot who thinks if he purposefully falls into the pool at a party, that will make him the Life of the Party (instead of the death of his social life). But that’s not all.

Galaxy collision –

Galaxies of relatively equal size collide, either forming new galaxies (merge) or tearing each other apart or a combination of the two, where one galaxy grows from the ordeal and the other is scattered to the cosmos. Like getting married.

Galactic cannibalism –

One galaxy, through tidal gravitational interaction, and while remaining relatively unchanged, rips apart and swallows a smaller galaxy. Like cannibalism. Cannibalism is cannibalism and tragically, the relationship analogies I’m using still apply.

Galaxy harassment –

A type of interaction between a low-luminosity galaxy and a brighter one. This often happens in areas of high density galaxy clusters where many galaxies are on their various paths and all crashing into each other like a roomful of drunken party guests all looking for the bathroom or the kitchen.

The eventual result of these messy get-togethers is usually dwarf spheroidals and dwarf ellipticals.

(For more detail with less glib, check out Wikipedia)

So what about our Milky Way? Is it possible that, at the far end of our galaxy, we may already be crashing, stripping, swallowing, or being swallowed by another galaxy?

I wrote a short story a few years ago where just this sort of thing was happening.

In my story, once scientists realized it, many decided to pursue different hypothesis to see if they could come up with a predictive model. Many had the idea that if such a thing were happening, perhaps it had already been happening long enough that other forces, like gravitational echoes of tidal forces, could be detected. It would take a novel approach to determine this. Naturally to make the story interesting, I chose the most far-fetched hypothesis to drive the story.

One of my editors immediately shut me down on the science of it all. Fair enough, but why?

This editor, who fancies himself brilliant due to his bachelor’s degree, sneered, “If we were crashing into another galaxy we would see it.”

First off, we do see it. We are heading for a collision with the Andromeda Galaxy. It won’t happen for another four billion years or so, as Andromeda, aka NGC 224, is 2.5 million light years from us. Also bear in mind that an awful lot can happen, even on a cosmic scale, in 4 billion years.

So yes, under certain situations we would see a galaxy heading toward us or crashing into us. Under other situations we absolutely would not see it.

This is why,

Milky Way, Andromeda, and all other galaxies in our little cluster are all heading to a certain point we call The Great Attractor. There’s at least one at every party, and if there are two, they either get together or hate each other.

What is the Great Attractor? We don’t know. We can’t see it.

Why can’t we see it?

It’s at the opposite end of our galaxy and the Milky Way is blocking our view. Our own galaxy blocks our view of plenty of the sky that lies behind it, and when you are talking about our solar system’s place in the galaxy, and the size of our galaxy, it’s like standing next to a wall.

There is a whole lot to see in ALL other directions that are not wall. But where wall is concerned, what is on the other side remains a mystery. If something is rushing toward wall from the other side, we won’t know about it until it smashes through and clobbers us.

So that particular editor I speak of is an unimaginative dimwit. A dimwit with a bachelor’s degree, but these things happen.

Anyway, what COULD be the Great Attractor? What in our universe is capable of pulling ginormous galaxies toward it? Is it one hell of a huge black hole, one so big that it would swallow our entire Local Group cluster in a single gulp? Like, for example, The Eridanus Void?


Could be. Or it may just be another cluster of galaxies, like the Shapeley Supercluster. (we’re in the Virgo Supercluster which, in turn, is part of the significantly larger  Laniakea Supercluster). Whatever it is, the Milky Way, the Andromeda Galaxy, and the Great Attractor, along with many other galaxies, are all going to make contact at about the same time (cosmologically speaking).

ESA & Planck Collaboration / Rosat/ Digitised Sky Survey

In fact, one theory posits that whatever the Great Attractor is, our galaxy and the rest are going to sail right past it, or perhaps sail right with it, into the Shapeley Supercluster.

However, this confusion will be short lived because in around 50,000 or so years, we should have a much better view of the situation.

So stay with me here, because that ALONE is just ONE great reason for being an immortal.


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