At the centre of the Andromeda Galaxy – the Milky Way’s much larger next door neighbour – lies a black hole with more than 4.1 million times the mass of the Sun. The supermassive black hole is truly a galactic powerhouse, destroying everything in its wake. While the black hole is 25,000 lightyears across space from Earth at the moment, scientists have warned Andromeda and the Milky Way will one day collide, which could spell the end for our planet.
Andromeda, which at 220,000 lightyears across is twice the size of the Milky Way, is approaching the our galaxy at around five million kilometres a year.
When the galaxies do meet, Earth could be flung into the centre of Andromeda, where its supermassive black hole would consume the planet.
Fabio Pacucci, an astrophysicist at Harvard University & Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, said during a Ted Talk: “Unlike their stellar cousins, supermassive black holes aren’t wandering through space.
“Instead, they lie at the centre of galaxies, including our own. Our solar system is in a stable orbit around a supermassive black hole that resides at the centre of the Milky Way, at a safe distance of 25,000 lightyears.
“But that could change. If our galaxy collides with another, the Earth could be thrown towards the galactic centre, close enough to the supermassive black hole to be eventually swallowed up.
“In fact, a collision with the Andromeda Galaxy is predicted to happen 4 billion years from now, which may not be great news for our home planet.”
However, Mr Pacucci added that black holes get a bad rep, and said they are actually vital for the existence of life in the cosmos.
The Harvard astrophysicist continued: “But before we judge them too harshly, black holes aren’t simply agents of destruction.
Geraint Lewis, an Astrophysicist at the University of Sydney, said: “ The burning of helium in the sun will cause the sun to expand and within about three billion years, the Earth will be scorched by the growing sun.
“It will swallow Mercury, then Venus and then Earth.”