the sun were scaled to the size of an Americanquarter, the next closest quarter/star would be 700km (475 miles) away.) If the theory is correct, the stars and gas contained in Andromeda will bevisible to a naked-eye viewer in approximately three billion years.
If the collision occurs, thegalaxies will likely merge into one larger galaxy. Various names have been proposed for the resultingmerged galaxy, the most dominant being
There is, as yet, no way to know whether the possible collision is definitely going to happen or not.Theradial velocityof the Andromeda galaxy with respect to the Milky Way can be measured byexamining theDoppler shiftof spectral lines from stars in the galaxy, but thetransverse velocity(or
"proper motion") cannot be directly measured. Thus, while it is known that the Andromeda galaxy isgetting closer to the Milky Way by about 120 km/s, there is no way to tell whether it is going tocollide, or miss. The best indirect estimates of the transverse velocity indicate that it is less than 100km/s
. This suggests that thedark matter halos, although possibly not the actual disks, of thegalaxies will collide. A futureEuropean Space Agencyspacecraft, theGaia mission, expected to
launch around 2011, is intended to measure the positions of stars in the Andromeda galaxy withsufficient precision to pin down the transverse velocity.
Such collisions are relatively common—Andromeda, for example, is believed to have collided with atleast one other galaxy in the past.
It is possible, but not certain, that ourSolar Systemmay beejected from the new galaxy some time during the collision. Such an event would have no adverseeffect on the system (especially since Sun is projected to enterred giantphase in 5 billion years).Chances of any sort of disturbance to the Sun or planets themselves are remote.
The early Earth was a vision of hell, all scalding rock and choking fumes. Since then, its surface hascooled, continents have drifted, mountains have risen and eroded, and life has emerged, benign andgreen. Nearly all traces of the planet as it was have been wiped away. But from clues in the oldestrocks, deepest magmas, and even the cratered face of the moon, scientists have traced the planet’sbeginnings. As those early days have come into focus, so have the rare scenes, found today in someof Earth’s harshest places that recall its ancient self.Its birth pangs began some 4.6 billion years ago as rock and ice particles swirling around the youngsun collided and merged, snowballing to produce ever larger planetary building blocks. In violentpileups, they smashed together to create planets, including the infant Earth. In the turmoil, anotherbody, as big as Mars, struck our planet with the energy of trillions of atomic bombs, enough to meltit all the way through. Most of the impact or was swallowed up in the bottomless magma ocean itcreated. But the collision also flung a small world’s worth of vaporized rock into orbit. Debris quicklygathered itself into a ball, and since then Earth history has unfolded beneath the blank stare of themoon.After the moon’s ﬁery birth, the Earth’s surface cooled. Even so, our planet remained an alien worldfor the next 700 million years; scientists call this time the Hadean, after the Greek underworld. Raftsof solid rock drifted in the magma like dark ice floes. Gases hissed from the cooling rock—carbon