Colliding Galaxies Doom Star Systems To Death By Black Hole

According to a new study, when galaxies collide a large portion of stars (and their planets) are knocked into the galactic center where they are eventually torn apart by a supermassive black hole.

The observations show that galaxies with star-eating black holes usually coincide with a “starburst” event, where the galaxy experiences an above average burst of star formation. Scientists think most of the starbursts are caused by galactic collisions. When two galaxies collide, dust and gas smash into each other and compress spawning many new stars. The findings were published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.


At the core of NGC 5195 lies a supermassive black hole. Image credit: NASA

Astronomers from the University of Arizona in Tucson analysed eight galaxies whose black holes had been known to swallow stars. The team found that six of them, or 75 per cent, recently experienced starbursts signifying a possible collision. This was statistically significant since starbursts are found in only 2.3 per cent of galaxies.

The study illustrates a cycle of life and death that we often see in the universe, but on a galactic scale. As two galaxies collide, the mature stars within the vicinity of the galactic core won’t have much time left before they are processed by the supermassive black hole. At the same time, bursts of new generations of stars are beings born out of the colliding gas and dust.

Scientists predict that our own Milky Way galaxy will collide with the neighboring Andromeda galaxy about 4 billion years from now. So what will happen to our solar system? – Will we be flung into the galactic center only to be gobbled up by a black hole? Astronomer Decker French from the University of Arizona says “it’s very, very unlikely but it will definitely increase the chances.”

Scientists don’t seem too worried, being that the Sun is located about 27,000 light years from our supermassive black hole.

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