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Sagittarius, Your Days are Numbered

The Milky Way is gobbling up the stars in the grouping we call Sagittarius. We see the stars the way they looked millions of years ago, but sometime in the future, Sagittarians will no longer have a star symbol to call their own.

David Whitehouse writes in BBC News Online that astronomers have learned that our Milky Way is devouring the nearby Sagittarius galaxy, which is 10,000 times smaller in than our own. "It's clear who's the bully in the interaction," says astronomer Steven Majewski "If people had infrared-sensitive eyes, the entrails of Sagittarius would be a prominent fixture sweeping across our sky."

This cosmic violence is hard to see because stars, gas and dust get in the way. To get a better view, astronomers used computers to digitally remove millions of stars that obscured the action. "We sifted several thousand interesting stars from a catalogue of half a billion," says astronomer Michael Skrutskie. "By tuning our maps of the sky to the right kind of star, the Sagittarius system jumped into view."

Astronomer Martin Weinberg says, "After slow, continuous gnawing by the Milky Way, Sagittarius has been whittled down to the point that it cannot hold itself together much longer. We are seeing Sagittarius at the very end of its life as an intact system."

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