WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Our Milky Way galaxy is gobbling up its galactic neighbor, Sagittarius, and on Wednesday, scientists offered documentary proof of this continuing cosmic cannibalism.
Astronomers have mapped the Sagittarius galaxy to show in detail how its debris wrap around and pass through the Milky Way, which contains Earth.
On its way to oblivion, the dwarf Sagittarius -- which is about 10,000 times smaller in mass than Milky Way -- is getting stretched, torn apart and ultimately eaten, scientists at the University of Virginia and the University of Massachusetts reported.
"It's clear who's the bully in the interaction," Steven Majewski of the University of Virginia, lead author of the report, said in a statement.
The study will be published in the Dec. 20 issue of the Astrophysical Journal.
The act of cannibalism had been obscured by stars and cosmic dust, but was revealed when astronomers looked for infrared radiation coming from stars known as M giants, which are common in Sagittarius but rare in the outer reaches of the Milky Way.
By focusing on these stars, the scientists said they were able to capture the totality of the Milky Way's meal, in a vision that makes it appear that our galaxy is slurping the stars of Sagittarius as if they were a stellar strand of spaghetti.
Before this work, astronomers had detected only a few scattered pieces of the disrupted Sagittarius dwarf. Even the existence of Sagittarius was unknown until the heart of our nearest satellite galaxy was discovered in 1994.