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Submitted by on Nov 2, 2019
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The first galaxies formed very long ago, when our almost 14 billion year old Universe was less than a billion years of age. Our own Milky Way Galaxy likewise is very ancient–a large starlit pinwheel twirling in space that is thought to be about 13.6 billion years old–give or take 8 million years. Indeed, the oldest known star in our Galaxy is 13.7 billion years old.

Altogether, the Milky Way is thought to host approximately 300 billion stars. But, even though our Galaxy has many galactic neighbors, one of its enormous starlit siblings has gone missing, disappearing mysteriously billions of years ago.

In July 2018, astronomers at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, announced that they have finally found our Milky Way’s long lost sibling. Alas, the team of scientists have deduced that our current closest large galactic neighbor shredded and cannibalized this massive sister of our Milky Way two billion years ago.

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Even though it was mostly devoured and shredded, this massive sister galaxy left behind, as a lingering tattle-tale relic of its former existence, a trail of evidence revealing that it was once here. This rich trail of evidence is composed of an almost invisible halo of stars that is larger than our Milky Way’s largest spiral neighbor, the Andromeda galaxy itself. The evidence also consists of an elusive stream of stars, as well as a separate mysterious and enigmatic galaxy named M32.

Discovering and observing this partly devoured doomed galaxy will help astronomers understand how disk galaxies like our Milky Way evolve and manage to survive large and violent mergers wth other enormous galaxies.

The space between galaxies is filled with a tenuous gas (the intergalactic medium) having an average density of less than one atom per cubic meter. The majority of galaxies are gravitationally organized into groups, clusters, and superclusters.

The Milky Way is part of the Local Group, which is dominated by it and the Andromeda Galaxy and is part of the Virgo Supercluster. At the largest scale, these associations are generally arranged into sheets and filaments surrounded by immense voids. Both the Local Group and the Virgo Supercluster are contained in a much larger cosmic structure named Laniakea.

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