"There is a small chance that we might not escape unscathed from the collision between the two galaxies which could knock us out of the Milky Way and into interstellar space," Marius Cautun, a postdoctoral fellow at Durham's Institute for Computational Cosmology, said in a recent statement obtained by Business Insider.
Cautun is lead author on a paper titled: “The aftermath of the Great Collision between our Galaxy and the Large Magellanic Cloud” published in September in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
The collision between the Milky Way and the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, is unlikely to occur for another 2 billion years, however.
But the crash would still come far sooner that an impending collision between the Milky Way and the Andromeda galaxy, which is expected to happen in a mere 8 billion years, or over half of the existence of the known Universe.
"While 2 billion years is an extremely long time compared to a human lifetime, it is a very short time on cosmic timescales," Cautun noted.
New research reveals that the LMC has twice the dark matter previously believed and that undetected mass could slow down the galaxy so much that it would be unable to escape our Milky Way galaxy’s gravitational pull.
Astronomers also believe that a collision will trigger the Milky Way’s enormous dormant black hole, which would then begin to feed on nearby gas as it grows larger.
"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 center of our galaxy reacts by emitting jets of extremely bright energetic radiation," study co-author Carlos Frenk noted, cited by the Business Insider.
According to researchers, however, the collision between the two galaxies is behind schedule.
Dr. Alis Deason of Durham University's Institute for Computational Cosmology said: "We think that up to now our galaxy has had only a few mergers with very low mass galaxies,” cited by Physics.org.
"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 Large Magellanic Cloud is long overdue and it is needed to make our galaxy typical,” she added.