Milky Way swallowed galaxy 10 billion years ago and cannibalised stars

23 Juillet, 2019, 13:36 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • IAC           Early Milky Way

For instance, Andromeda has "cannibalized" a nearby galaxy and this happened about 2 billion years ago.

After studying their movement and composition, the team determined that both sets of stars were equally old, but the bluer ones had been set into a "chaotic motion" - evidence of the Milky Way swallowing a smaller galaxy in the distant recesses of time. However the exact chain of the events which produced the Milky Way was not known until now.

High-precision measurements of the position, brightness and distance of around a million stars within 6,500 light years of the sun, obtained by the Gaia space telescope operated by the European Space Agency, helped pinpoint stars present before the merger and those that formed afterward.

The publication explains that the galaxy is fixed in space.

Previous research, published in Nature in 2018, found evidence that a huge population of stars within the halo region of the Milky Way were moving in a different direction to the rest of the galaxy's billions of stars. However, when the collision occurred, until that time, no could not say.

Gallart's team built on that research, determining accurate ages for hundreds of thousands of stars in the halo and the disk. This wouldn't be the first time our galaxy is involved in a galactic merger.

Engadget notes that "The researchers believe Gaia-Enceladus collided with the young Milky Way about 10 billion years ago, and over the course of millions of years, the Milky Way consumed the dwarf galaxy".

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After all, their own stars in the milky way are in the same area from the very beginning of its formation to 13.5 billion years ago. The energy of the collision caused stars in the Milky Way to be flung out into the galactic halo.

Smaller galaxies merge to create bigger ones, and form and evolve hierarchically.

'Here we show that the stars in both halo sequences share identical age distributions, and are older than most of the thick-disk stars.

They found that numerous stars in the inner halo are up to 10 billion years old, providing more evidence of the timing of the merger-and helping identify the Milky Way's original stars that were there at its onset, 13.5 billion years ago.

The next step for the astronomers is to extend the timeframes even further which should provide an even more accurate determination of how the Milky Way's disk came to be.

"The novelty of our work is that we have been able to assign precise ages to the stars that belong to the galaxies that merged and, by knowing these ages, when the merger took place", Carme Gallart, lead author of the study published in Nature Astronomy, told AFP.

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