The skywards-pointing sections of science are constantly on the lookout for all sorts of cool space things, and we all secretly hope and/or dread that they’ll eventually have news of alien life. Well, in 2020 they announced something that’s in many ways even stranger: As Live Science tells us, our actual galaxy has “thousands” of alien stars, just hanging around like it isn’t even a thing.
The reason behind this is as fascinating as it is weird. Turns out, our very own Milky Way is nibbling tiny chunks off a couple of dwarf galaxies, and in fact may have plans to devour them completely at some point in the future. The galaxies on the dinner table appear to be the Large and Small Magellanic clouds, and the Milky Way has already torn off plenty of stars from them, thus providing our galaxy’s largely dead outer reaches with a whole bunch of relatively young, bright star power.
Alien stars and the Milky Way's galactic cannibalism
According to Space.com, our galaxy munching on other galaxies’ stars is not exactly a new development. Puny humans have known about it since at least 2013, when the Hubble telescope revealed possible evidence of a phenomenon known as “galactic cannibalism.” Yes, that’s a real term they use. In fact, scientists believe that the Milky Way used to be smaller, but like an overzealous uncle at a Thanksgiving table, our home galaxy has been adding to its mass by straight up devouring smaller “satellite” galaxies.
Don’t worry, though — this doesn’t mean a bigger galaxy will saunter along any day now and gobble us up, Pac Man-style. The scale of this phenomenon is quite literally galactic and takes place over many eons, and the actual act of “cannibalism” appears to be more like the Milky Way adding to its mass by slapping a few extra star systems in its outer halo. So, it’s less of a brutal act of devouring conquest and more like … uh, a clay figure becoming bigger by adding tiny layers of extra clay to its surface over a period of time our tiny human minds can barely even perceive. Ok, yeah, we can see why they went with the cannibalism metaphor.
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