New research has predicted that a galactic collision could wake the black hole at the centre of the Milky Way and cause it to swell ten times over and devour all surrounding matter.
Astrophysicists at Durham University have predicted that the collision between the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) and our own galaxy could occur much sooner than the expected crash between us and neighbouring galaxy Andromeda.
This “catastrophic” collision could occur in two billion years’ time – much sooner than the expected eight billion years until we smash into Andromeda.
This is because recent research has discovered that the LMC contains far more dark matter than previously thought – meaning it is losing energy and dooming it to crash into our galaxy.
The findings are published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society and warn that there is a chance the collision could send our solar system hurtling out of the galaxy and into more mysterious regions of deep space.
When we come into contact with the LMC the crash could wake up the dormant black hole at the centre of the Milky Way which would then subsume the gaseous matter surrounding it and increase in size up to ten times.
This would prompt the black hole to begin discharging high-energy radiation in what the researchers described as a cosmic fireworks display.
The paper’s co-author, Professor Carlos Frenk, said: “Beautiful as it is, our universe is constantly evolving, often through violent events like the forthcoming collision with the LMC.
“Barring any disasters, like a major disturbance to the solar system, our descendants, if any, are in for a treat: a spectacular display of cosmic fireworks as the newly awakened supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy reacts by emitting jets of extremely bright energetic radiation.”
Although these fireworks are unlikely to affect life on Earth, there is no definite way to predict how quasars will affect our planet.
Dr Alis Deason added: “We think that up to now our galaxy has had only a few mergers with very low mass galaxies.
“This represents very slim pickings when compared to nearby galaxies of the same size as the Milky Way.
“For example, our nearest neighbour, the Andromeda galaxy, devoured galaxies weighing nearly 30 times more than those consumed by the Milky Way.
“Therefore, the collision with the LMC is long overdue and it is needed to make our galaxy typical,” Dr Deason explained.