...spectacularly spanning the entire sky...

By Hal Canary, 2006-06-03 17:04:18 (link)

Giant elliptical galaxies are probably formed by mergers on a grander scale. In the Local Group, the Milky Way and M31 (the Andromeda Galaxy) are gravitationally bound, and currently approaching each other at high speed. Since we cannot determine the speed of M31 perpendicular to the line from us to it, we do not know if it will collide with the Milky Way. If the two galaxies do meet they will pass through each other, with gravity distorting both galaxies severely and ejecting some gas, dust and stars into intergalactic space. They will travel apart, slow down, and then again be drawn towards each other, and again collide. Eventually both galaxies will have merged completely, streams of gas and dust will be flying through the space near the newly formed giant elliptical galaxy. Out of the gas ejected from the merger, new globular clusters and maybe even new dwarf galaxies may form and become the halo of the elliptical. The globulars from both M31 and the Milky Way will also form part of the halo; globulars are so tightly held together that they are largely immune to large scale galactic interactions. On the stellar scale, little will happen. If anybody is around to watch the merger (“If it is on a collision course, the impact is predicted to occur in about 3 billion years.” (S)], it will be a slow, but magnificent event, with the sight of a distorted M31 spectacularly spanning the entire sky.