Milky Way swallowed another galaxy 10 billion years ago and cannibalised stars

26 Juillet, 2019, 22:17 | Auteur: Therese Cote

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, helped pinpoint stars present before the merger and those that formed afterward.

"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.

Most people are extremely curious of the vastness of space, as within the infinite black there is truly some beauty found in observing galaxies and star clusters.

The scientists noted that the stars surveyed fall into one of two groups, one of which appears to be the result of an "accretion event", which is believed to be evidence of a galaxy collision.

"The final piece of the puzzle was given by the quantity of 'metals, ' or elements which are not hydrogen or helium, in the stars of one component or the other", said Tomás Ruiz Lara, also a study co-author and researcher at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias.

The stars were formed in two systems: the galaxy that would become the Milky Way and the Gaia-Enceladus dwarf galaxy. Previously, the Milky Way was four times more massive and contained more metal.

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Galaxies of all types including the Milky Way began to form relatively soon after the Big Bang explosion that marked the beginning of the universe some 13.8 billion years ago, but were generally smaller than those seen today and were forming stars at a rapid rate.

The chaotic merger caused violent bursts of star formation that lasted 4 billion years.

"Some ten thousand millions years ago there was a violent collision between the more massive system and Gaia-Enceladus".

It had around 30% of the mass of stars in the main originator of the Milky Way. Eventually, the galaxy's gas created a thin disc that it still maintains.

Now, thanks to Gaia space observatory data, astronomers have a clearer and complete picture of our galaxy's past.

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