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Astronomy

25.6 The Formation of the Galaxy

Astronomy25.6 The Formation of the Galaxy
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  1. Preface
  2. 1 Science and the Universe: A Brief Tour
    1. Introduction
    2. 1.1 The Nature of Astronomy
    3. 1.2 The Nature of Science
    4. 1.3 The Laws of Nature
    5. 1.4 Numbers in Astronomy
    6. 1.5 Consequences of Light Travel Time
    7. 1.6 A Tour of the Universe
    8. 1.7 The Universe on the Large Scale
    9. 1.8 The Universe of the Very Small
    10. 1.9 A Conclusion and a Beginning
    11. For Further Exploration
  3. 2 Observing the Sky: The Birth of Astronomy
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 2.1 The Sky Above
    3. 2.2 Ancient Astronomy
    4. 2.3 Astrology and Astronomy
    5. 2.4 The Birth of Modern Astronomy
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  4. 3 Orbits and Gravity
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 3.1 The Laws of Planetary Motion
    3. 3.2 Newton’s Great Synthesis
    4. 3.3 Newton’s Universal Law of Gravitation
    5. 3.4 Orbits in the Solar System
    6. 3.5 Motions of Satellites and Spacecraft
    7. 3.6 Gravity with More Than Two Bodies
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  5. 4 Earth, Moon, and Sky
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 4.1 Earth and Sky
    3. 4.2 The Seasons
    4. 4.3 Keeping Time
    5. 4.4 The Calendar
    6. 4.5 Phases and Motions of the Moon
    7. 4.6 Ocean Tides and the Moon
    8. 4.7 Eclipses of the Sun and Moon
    9. Key Terms
    10. Summary
    11. For Further Exploration
    12. Collaborative Group Activities
    13. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  6. 5 Radiation and Spectra
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 5.1 The Behavior of Light
    3. 5.2 The Electromagnetic Spectrum
    4. 5.3 Spectroscopy in Astronomy
    5. 5.4 The Structure of the Atom
    6. 5.5 Formation of Spectral Lines
    7. 5.6 The Doppler Effect
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  7. 6 Astronomical Instruments
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 6.1 Telescopes
    3. 6.2 Telescopes Today
    4. 6.3 Visible-Light Detectors and Instruments
    5. 6.4 Radio Telescopes
    6. 6.5 Observations outside Earth’s Atmosphere
    7. 6.6 The Future of Large Telescopes
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  8. 7 Other Worlds: An Introduction to the Solar System
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 7.1 Overview of Our Planetary System
    3. 7.2 Composition and Structure of Planets
    4. 7.3 Dating Planetary Surfaces
    5. 7.4 Origin of the Solar System
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  9. 8 Earth as a Planet
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 8.1 The Global Perspective
    3. 8.2 Earth’s Crust
    4. 8.3 Earth’s Atmosphere
    5. 8.4 Life, Chemical Evolution, and Climate Change
    6. 8.5 Cosmic Influences on the Evolution of Earth
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. For Further Exploration
    10. Collaborative Group Activities
    11. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  10. 9 Cratered Worlds
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 9.1 General Properties of the Moon
    3. 9.2 The Lunar Surface
    4. 9.3 Impact Craters
    5. 9.4 The Origin of the Moon
    6. 9.5 Mercury
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. For Further Exploration
    10. Collaborative Group Activities
    11. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  11. 10 Earthlike Planets: Venus and Mars
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 10.1 The Nearest Planets: An Overview
    3. 10.2 The Geology of Venus
    4. 10.3 The Massive Atmosphere of Venus
    5. 10.4 The Geology of Mars
    6. 10.5 Water and Life on Mars
    7. 10.6 Divergent Planetary Evolution
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  12. 11 The Giant Planets
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 11.1 Exploring the Outer Planets
    3. 11.2 The Giant Planets
    4. 11.3 Atmospheres of the Giant Planets
    5. Key Terms
    6. Summary
    7. For Further Exploration
    8. Collaborative Group Activities
    9. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  13. 12 Rings, Moons, and Pluto
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 12.1 Ring and Moon Systems Introduced
    3. 12.2 The Galilean Moons of Jupiter
    4. 12.3 Titan and Triton
    5. 12.4 Pluto and Charon
    6. 12.5 Planetary Rings
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. For Further Exploration
    10. Collaborative Group Activities
    11. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  14. 13 Comets and Asteroids: Debris of the Solar System
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 13.1 Asteroids
    3. 13.2 Asteroids and Planetary Defense
    4. 13.3 The “Long-Haired” Comets
    5. 13.4 The Origin and Fate of Comets and Related Objects
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  15. 14 Cosmic Samples and the Origin of the Solar System
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 14.1 Meteors
    3. 14.2 Meteorites: Stones from Heaven
    4. 14.3 Formation of the Solar System
    5. 14.4 Comparison with Other Planetary Systems
    6. 14.5 Planetary Evolution
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. For Further Exploration
    10. Collaborative Group Activities
    11. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  16. 15 The Sun: A Garden-Variety Star
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 15.1 The Structure and Composition of the Sun
    3. 15.2 The Solar Cycle
    4. 15.3 Solar Activity above the Photosphere
    5. 15.4 Space Weather
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  17. 16 The Sun: A Nuclear Powerhouse
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 16.1 Sources of Sunshine: Thermal and Gravitational Energy
    3. 16.2 Mass, Energy, and the Theory of Relativity
    4. 16.3 The Solar Interior: Theory
    5. 16.4 The Solar Interior: Observations
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  18. 17 Analyzing Starlight
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 17.1 The Brightness of Stars
    3. 17.2 Colors of Stars
    4. 17.3 The Spectra of Stars (and Brown Dwarfs)
    5. 17.4 Using Spectra to Measure Stellar Radius, Composition, and Motion
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  19. 18 The Stars: A Celestial Census
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 18.1 A Stellar Census
    3. 18.2 Measuring Stellar Masses
    4. 18.3 Diameters of Stars
    5. 18.4 The H–R Diagram
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  20. 19 Celestial Distances
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 19.1 Fundamental Units of Distance
    3. 19.2 Surveying the Stars
    4. 19.3 Variable Stars: One Key to Cosmic Distances
    5. 19.4 The H–R Diagram and Cosmic Distances
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  21. 20 Between the Stars: Gas and Dust in Space
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 20.1 The Interstellar Medium
    3. 20.2 Interstellar Gas
    4. 20.3 Cosmic Dust
    5. 20.4 Cosmic Rays
    6. 20.5 The Life Cycle of Cosmic Material
    7. 20.6 Interstellar Matter around the Sun
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  22. 21 The Birth of Stars and the Discovery of Planets outside the Solar System
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 21.1 Star Formation
    3. 21.2 The H–R Diagram and the Study of Stellar Evolution
    4. 21.3 Evidence That Planets Form around Other Stars
    5. 21.4 Planets beyond the Solar System: Search and Discovery
    6. 21.5 Exoplanets Everywhere: What We Are Learning
    7. 21.6 New Perspectives on Planet Formation
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  23. 22 Stars from Adolescence to Old Age
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 22.1 Evolution from the Main Sequence to Red Giants
    3. 22.2 Star Clusters
    4. 22.3 Checking Out the Theory
    5. 22.4 Further Evolution of Stars
    6. 22.5 The Evolution of More Massive Stars
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. For Further Exploration
    10. Collaborative Group Activities
    11. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  24. 23 The Death of Stars
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 23.1 The Death of Low-Mass Stars
    3. 23.2 Evolution of Massive Stars: An Explosive Finish
    4. 23.3 Supernova Observations
    5. 23.4 Pulsars and the Discovery of Neutron Stars
    6. 23.5 The Evolution of Binary Star Systems
    7. 23.6 The Mystery of the Gamma-Ray Bursts
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  25. 24 Black Holes and Curved Spacetime
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 24.1 Introducing General Relativity
    3. 24.2 Spacetime and Gravity
    4. 24.3 Tests of General Relativity
    5. 24.4 Time in General Relativity
    6. 24.5 Black Holes
    7. 24.6 Evidence for Black Holes
    8. 24.7 Gravitational Wave Astronomy
    9. Key Terms
    10. Summary
    11. For Further Exploration
    12. Collaborative Group Activities
    13. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  26. 25 The Milky Way Galaxy
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 25.1 The Architecture of the Galaxy
    3. 25.2 Spiral Structure
    4. 25.3 The Mass of the Galaxy
    5. 25.4 The Center of the Galaxy
    6. 25.5 Stellar Populations in the Galaxy
    7. 25.6 The Formation of the Galaxy
    8. Key Terms
    9. Summary
    10. For Further Exploration
    11. Collaborative Group Activities
    12. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  27. 26 Galaxies
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 26.1 The Discovery of Galaxies
    3. 26.2 Types of Galaxies
    4. 26.3 Properties of Galaxies
    5. 26.4 The Extragalactic Distance Scale
    6. 26.5 The Expanding Universe
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. For Further Exploration
    10. Collaborative Group Activities
    11. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  28. 27 Active Galaxies, Quasars, and Supermassive Black Holes
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 27.1 Quasars
    3. 27.2 Supermassive Black Holes: What Quasars Really Are
    4. 27.3 Quasars as Probes of Evolution in the Universe
    5. Key Terms
    6. Summary
    7. For Further Exploration
    8. Collaborative Group Activities
    9. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  29. 28 The Evolution and Distribution of Galaxies
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 28.1 Observations of Distant Galaxies
    3. 28.2 Galaxy Mergers and Active Galactic Nuclei
    4. 28.3 The Distribution of Galaxies in Space
    5. 28.4 The Challenge of Dark Matter
    6. 28.5 The Formation and Evolution of Galaxies and Structure in the Universe
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. For Further Exploration
    10. Collaborative Group Activities
    11. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  30. 29 The Big Bang
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 29.1 The Age of the Universe
    3. 29.2 A Model of the Universe
    4. 29.3 The Beginning of the Universe
    5. 29.4 The Cosmic Microwave Background
    6. 29.5 What Is the Universe Really Made Of?
    7. 29.6 The Inflationary Universe
    8. 29.7 The Anthropic Principle
    9. Key Terms
    10. Summary
    11. For Further Exploration
    12. Collaborative Group Activities
    13. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  31. 30 Life in the Universe
    1. Thinking Ahead
    2. 30.1 The Cosmic Context for Life
    3. 30.2 Astrobiology
    4. 30.3 Searching for Life beyond Earth
    5. 30.4 The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. For Further Exploration
    9. Collaborative Group Activities
    10. Exercises
      1. Review Questions
      2. Thought Questions
      3. Figuring for Yourself
  32. A | How to Study for an Introductory Astronomy Class
  33. B | Astronomy Websites, Images, and Apps
  34. C | Scientific Notation
  35. D | Units Used in Science
  36. E | Some Useful Constants for Astronomy
  37. F | Physical and Orbital Data for the Planets
  38. G | Selected Moons of the Planets
  39. H | Future Total Eclipses
  40. I | The Nearest Stars, Brown Dwarfs, and White Dwarfs
  41. J | The Brightest Twenty Stars
  42. K | The Chemical Elements
  43. L | The Constellations
  44. M | Star Chart and Sky Event Resources
  45. Index

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Describe the roles played by the collapse of a single cloud and mergers with other galaxies in building the Milky Way Galaxy we see today
  • Provide examples of globular clusters and satellite galaxies affected by the Milky Way’s strong gravity.

Information about stellar populations holds vital clues to how our Galaxy was built up over time. The flattened disk shape of the Galaxy suggests that it formed through a process similar to the one that leads to the formation of a protostar (see The Birth of Stars and the Discovery of Planets outside the Solar System). Building on this idea, astronomers first developed models that assumed the Galaxy formed from a single rotating cloud. But, as we shall see, this turns out to be only part of the story.

The Protogalactic Cloud and the Monolithic Collapse Model

Because the oldest stars—those in the halo and in globular clusters—are distributed in a sphere centered on the nucleus of the Galaxy, it makes sense to assume that the protogalactic cloud that gave birth to our Galaxy was roughly spherical. The oldest stars in the halo have ages of 12 to 13 billion years, so we estimate that the formation of the Galaxy began about that long ago. (See the chapter on The Big Bang for other evidence that galaxies in general began forming a little more than 13 billion years ago.) Then, just as in the case of star formation, the protogalactic cloud collapsed and formed a thin rotating disk. Stars born before the cloud collapsed did not participate in the collapse, but have continued to orbit in the halo to the present day (Figure 25.21).

Monolithic Collapse Model for the Formation of the Galaxy. Panel 1 at upper left shows the gas cloud, drawn as a blue blob, at the beginning of its collapse. The axis of rotation (drawn in all four panels) is a vertical line above center with a counter-clockwise arrow around it indicating the direction of rotation. White arrows at the periphery of the cloud point toward the center illustrating the collapse. Panel 2 at upper right shows the gas cloud flattened a bit at the edges and thicker nearer the axis of rotation. Globular clusters are indicated as white dots outside the cloud. Panel 3 at lower left shows the cloud further flattened and continuing to collapse into a disk. Finally, panel 4 at lower right shows the galaxy much thinner, and now drawn in white to indicate that stars have formed in the disk. Globular clusters are evenly distributed around the galactic bulge.
Figure 25.21 Monolithic Collapse Model for the Formation of the Galaxy. According to this model, the Milky Way Galaxy initially formed from a rotating cloud of gas that collapsed due to gravity. Halo stars and globular clusters either formed prior to the collapse or were formed elsewhere. Stars in the disk formed later, when the gas from which they were made was already “contaminated” with heavy elements produced in earlier generations of stars.

Gravitational forces caused the gas in the thin disk to fragment into clouds or clumps with masses like those of star clusters. These individual clouds then fragmented further to form stars. Since the oldest stars in the disk are nearly as old as the youngest stars in the halo, the collapse must have been rapid (astronomically speaking), requiring perhaps no more than a few hundred million years.

Collision Victims and the Multiple Merger Model

In past decades, astronomers have learned that the evolution of the Galaxy has not been quite as peaceful as this monolithic collapse model suggests. In 1994, astronomers discovered a small new galaxy in the direction of the constellation of Sagittarius. The Sagittarius dwarf galaxy is currently about 70,000 light-years away from Earth and 50,000 light-years from the center of the Galaxy. It is the closest galaxy known (Figure 25.22). It is very elongated, and its shape indicates that it is being torn apart by our Galaxy’s gravitational tides—just as Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 was torn apart when it passed too close to Jupiter in 1992.

The Sagittarius galaxy is much smaller than the Milky Way and is about 10,000 times less massive than our Galaxy. All of the stars in the Sagittarius dwarf galaxy seem destined to end up in the bulge and halo of the Milky Way. But don’t sound the funeral bells for the little galaxy quite yet; the ingestion of the Sagittarius dwarf will take another 100 million years or so, and the stars themselves will survive.

Sagittarius Dwarf Galaxy. Superimposed on this greyscale image of the galactic center a contour map of the dwarf galaxy is drawn in red above and slightly to the right of center. The white stars in the contour map mark the locations of several globular clusters contained within the dwarf galaxy. The cross marks the center of the Milky Way. The horizontal line corresponds to the galactic plane. The blue outline on either side of the galactic plane corresponds to Herschel’s diagram of the Milky Way. The boxes mark regions where detailed studies of individual stars led to the discovery of this galaxy.
Figure 25.22 Sagittarius Dwarf. In 1994, British astronomers discovered a galaxy in the constellation of Sagittarius, located only about 50,000 light-years from the center of the Milky Way and falling into our Galaxy. This image covers a region approximately 70° × 50° and combines a black-and-white view of the disk of our Galaxy with a red contour map showing the brightness of the dwarf galaxy. The dwarf galaxy lies on the other side of the galactic center from us. The white stars in the red region mark the locations of several globular clusters contained within the Sagittarius dwarf galaxy. The cross marks the galactic center. The horizontal line corresponds to the galactic plane. The blue outline on either side of the galactic plane corresponds to the infrared image in Figure 25.7. The boxes mark regions where detailed studies of individual stars led to the discovery of this galaxy. (credit: modification of work by R. Ibata (UBC), R. Wyse (JHU), R. Sword (IoA))

Since that discovery, evidence has been found for many more close encounters between our Galaxy and other neighbor galaxies. When a small galaxy ventures too close, the force of gravity exerted by our Galaxy tugs harder on the near side than on the far side. The net effect is that the stars that originally belonged to the small galaxy are spread out into a long stream that orbits through the halo of the Milky Way (Figure 25.23).

Streams in the Galactic Halo. This illustration shows the Milky Way at bottom, with the disk tilted about 45 degrees from edge-on. Three streams of stars are shown tracing elliptical orbits around the galactic center. Two of the streams are close enough to the center to have their stars pass through the plane of the galaxy. One stream is so distant it orbits the entire galaxy and does not touch the disk at all.
Figure 25.23 Streams in the Galactic Halo. When a small galaxy is swallowed by the Milky Way, its member stars are stripped away and form streams of stars in the galactic halo. This image is based on calculations of what some of these tidal streams might look like if the Milky Way swallowed 50 dwarf galaxies over the past 10 billion years. (credit: modification of work by NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt (SSC/Caltech))

Such a tidal stream can maintain its identity for billions of years. To date, astronomers have now identified streams originating from 12 small galaxies that ventured too close to the much larger Milky Way. Six more streams are associated with globular clusters. It has been suggested that large globular clusters, like Omega Centauri, are actually dense nuclei of cannibalized dwarf galaxies. The globular cluster M54 is now thought to be the nucleus of the Sagittarius dwarf we discussed earlier, which is currently merging with the Milky Way (Figure 25.24). The stars in the outer regions of such galaxies are stripped off by the gravitational pull of the Milky Way, but the central dense regions may survive.

Globular Cluster M54. A nearly perfectly spherical cluster of stars, so dense that the central core appears as a bright patch of light rather than individual stars.
Figure 25.24 Globular Cluster M54. This beautiful Hubble Space Telescope image shows the globular cluster that is now believed to be the nucleus of the Sagittarius Dwarf Galaxy. (credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA)

Calculations indicate that the Galaxy’s thick disk may be a product of one or more such collisions with other galaxies. Accretion of a satellite galaxy would stir up the orbits of the stars and gas clouds originally in the thin disk and cause them to move higher above and below the mid-plane of the Galaxy. Meanwhile, the Galaxy’s stars would add to the fluffed-up mix. If such a collision happened about 10 billion years ago, then any gas in the two galaxies that had not yet formed into stars would have had plenty of time to settle back down into the thin disk. The gas could then have begun forming subsequent generations of population I stars. This timing is also consistent with the typical ages of stars in the thick disk.

The Milky Way has more collisions in store. An example is the Canis Major dwarf galaxy, which has a mass of about 1% of the mass of the Milky Way. Already long tidal tails have been stripped from this galaxy, which have wrapped themselves around the Milky Way three times. Several of the globular clusters found in the Milky Way may also have come from the Canis Major dwarf, which is expected to merge gradually with the Milky Way over about the next billion years.

In about 3 billion years, the Milky Way itself will be swallowed up, since it and the Andromeda galaxy are on a collision course. Our computer models show that after a complex interaction, the two will merge to form a larger, more rounded galaxy (Figure 25.25).

Collision of the Milky Way with Andromeda. In panel 1, at upper left, the Andromeda galaxy looms large in the night sky. In panel 2, at top center, the interaction has begun with the Milky Way and Andromeda becoming visibly distorted as Andromeda gets closer to us. In panel 3, at upper right, the sky is ablaze with star forming regions and a riot of dust clouds and star clusters. In panel 4, at lower left, the galaxies further lose their spiral shapes, but dust lanes and star formation persists. By panel 5, at lower center, the two galactic nuclei fill the sky. Finally, in panel 6 at lower right, the nuclei have merged into a huge elliptical mass of stars.
Figure 25.25 Collision of the Milky Way with Andromeda. In about 3 billion years, the Milky Way Galaxy and Andromeda Galaxy will begin a long process of colliding, separating, and then coming back together to form an elliptical galaxy. The whole interaction will take 3 to 4 billion years. These computer-simulated images show the following sequence: (1) In 3.75 billion years, Andromeda has approached the Milky Way. (2) New star formation fills the sky 3.85 billion years from now. (3) Star formation continues at 3.9 billion years. (4) The galaxy shapes change as they interact, with Andromeda being stretched and our Galaxy becoming warped, about 4 billion years from now. (5) In 5.1 billion years, the cores of the two galaxies are bright lobes. (6) In 7 billion years, the merged galaxies form a huge elliptical galaxy whose brightness fills the night sky. This artist’s illustrations show events from a vantage point 25,000 light-years from the center of the Milky Way. However, we should mention that the Sun may not be at that distance throughout the sequence of events, as the collision readjusts the orbits of many stars within each galaxy. (credit: NASA; ESA; Z. Levay, R. van der Marel, STScl; T. Hallas, and A. Mellinger)

We are thus coming to realize that “environmental influences” (and not just a galaxy’s original characteristics) play an important role in determining the properties and development of our Galaxy. In future chapters we will see that collisions and mergers are a major factor in the evolution of many other galaxies as well.

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