An image from NASA has shown a spectacular and rare phenomenon which depicts one of the biggest and most violent collisions in the universe, as spotted by the space agency’s Chandra X-ray Observatory. Four galaxy clusters – each with a mass of at least several hundred trillion times that of the Sun – are heading towards each other which result in one of the biggest objects in the universe.
Galaxy clusters are the largest structures in the universe, each consisting of hundreds or even thousands of galaxies.
For example, the Milky Way, which is 52,850 lightyears across, is part of the Virgo Supercluster, which contains around 100 galaxies.
The Virgo Supercluster is 110 million light-years across and contains roughly 110 billion times the number of stars in the Milky Way.
The Milky Way contains between 100 billion and 400 billion stars, according to NASA.
So for four galaxy clusters to merge, the resulting supercluster will be of epic proportions, with NASA stating it will become one of the most massive objects in the universe.
NASA said in a statement: “The new observations show a mega-structure being assembled in a system called Abell 1758, located about 3 billion lightyears from Earth. It contains two pairs of colliding galaxy clusters that are heading toward one another.
“Scientists first recognised Abell 1758 as a quadruple galaxy cluster system in 2004 using data from Chandra and XMM-Newton, a satellite operated by the European Space Agency (ESA).
“Each pair in the system contains two galaxy clusters that are well on their way to merging. In the northern (top) pair seen in the composite image, the centres of each cluster have already passed by each other once, about 300 to 400 million years ago, and will eventually swing back around.
“The southern pair at the bottom of the image has two clusters that are close to approaching each other for the first time.”
The Milky Way is currently gearing up for its own galactic collision, experts have said.
The Milky Way is going to collide with Andromeda – the nearest galaxy to ours and one that is 220,000 light-years across, twice the size of our home galaxy.
Andromeda is approaching the Milky Way at around five million kilometres a year meaning that “in about three billion years, Andromeda will collide with ours, according to Geraint Lewis, an Astrophysicist at the University of Sydney.
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Mr Lewis continued: “The collision will shake-up the Milky Way and it will be lit up like a Christmas Tree as new stars are created.
“The gas available in this collision gets used up very quickly. New stars will form and die. The gas will be swallowed up by a supermassive black hole.”
However, humanity will not have to worry about that, as our Sun will have destroyed the solar system by then.
Mr Lewis said: The burning of helium in the sun will cause the sun to expand and within about three billion years, the Earth will be scorched by the growing sun. It will swallow Mercury, then Venus and then Earth.”
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