We hope to see some pretty spectacular things in the sky at our Stargate Conference in Joshua Tree on Oct. 16-18 but nothing like this: Some astronomers have speculated that collisions with our neighbors in space may one day tear apart the disk of the Milky Way. Could this be what 2012 is all about?

Thank goodness a new study shows that this grisly fate is unlikely. While astronomers know that such collisions have probably occurred in the past, the new computer simulations show that instead of destroying a galaxy, these collisions “puff up” a galactic disk, particularly around the edges, and produce structures called stellar rings.

This finding solves two mysteries: the likely fate of the Milky Way and the origin of its puffy edges, which astronomers have seen elsewhere in the universe. Astronomer Stelios Kazantzidis says, “We can’t know for sure what’s going to happen to the Milky Way, but we can say that our findings apply to a broad class of galaxies similar to our own. Our simulations showed that the satellite galaxy impacts don’t destroy spiral galaxies, they actually drive their evolution, by producing this flared shape and creating stellar rings: Spectacular rings of stars that we’ve seen in many spiral galaxies in the universe.”

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