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Andromeda May Have Eaten the Milky Way's Long-lost Sibling

26 July 2018, 09:29 | Justin Tyler

The Andromeda galaxy ate our sister galaxy

Scientists find mystery galaxy related to Milky Way

In a paper published to Nature Astronomy, a team of scientists from the University of MI revealed that 2bn years ago, Andromeda shredded and cannibalised a massive galaxy dubbed M32p, leaving behind an nearly invisible halo of stars larger than Andromeda itself.

Researchers at the University of Michigan's astronomy department made the exciting discovery while studying the Andromeda galaxy next door to the Milky Way. Said, For then it was a "eureka" moment. A new computer simulation revealed that the outer faint halo of stars around Andromeda were largely contributed by one large galaxy that had been shredded apart.

Once upon a time, there were three huge galaxies in the Local Group that were the best of friends, Andromeda, The Milky Way and the Milky Way's slightly smaller sibling, M32p. D'Souza and Bell think that an odd satellite galaxy of Andromeda called M32 is the lost galaxy's corpse - the bones left behind after the big, nasty spiral munched off M32p's meat. M32 is a weirdo. "While it looks like a compact example of an old, elliptical galaxy, it actually has a lot of young stars". It's one of the most compact galaxies in the universe. "There isn't another galaxy like it".

Astronomers have long known that this almost invisible large halo of stars surrounding galaxies contains the remnants of smaller cannibalized galaxies. Due to which researchers thought it would be hard to learn about any of those. "We realized we could use this information ... to infer the properties of the largest of these shredded galaxies". For a long time the three discs swirled away near each other, sucking up matter and other smaller galaxies.

Many Astronomers have been studying the local group. However, for them, it was shocking to know that Milky Way had a larger sibling.

Previously not much was known about M32, but now it seems clear that the smaller galaxy is the surviving center of M32p. Another research team independently determined earlier this year that Andromeda likely underwent a big merger, and a concomitant surge of star formation, between 1.8 billion and 3 billion years ago.

In the past, the Andromeda Nebula absorbed a large galaxy.

This new results are important not only because they help shed light on the formation history of the largest galaxy in our local neighborhood, but also because they question conventional wisdom regarding how galaxies evolve following massive collisions. But Andromeda and its spiral survived.

This study may also solve the mystery of the formation of the enigmatic Andromeda's M32 satellite galaxy. Andromeda has a large, stretched stream of stars orbiting it, separate from its spiral arms, that is thought to have originated from some collision. Hannah Devlin at The Guardian reports that scientists have just discovered this story of galactic murder by studying Andromeda's halo, and the tale will help them refine the science behind galaxy formation and the fate of our own galaxy.

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