The Large and Small Magellanic Clouds
AAO image reference MISC 21.     « Previous || Next »


Photograph and text © 1991-2002, Australian Astronomical Observatory, photograph by David Malin

The Large and Small Magellanic Clouds are the nearest galaxies to the Milky Way, about 170,000 and 240,000 light years distant respectively. They are in the far southern sky, practically invisible from northern latitudes, and their low surface brightness makes them difficult to see unless they are high in the sky and the sky is dark and moonless. Both Magellanic Clouds are less than 25 degrees from the South Celestial Pole and are visible at some time on any clear, dark night from Siding Spring, where this picture was taken.

To the dark adapted eye the Magellanic Clouds look like detached pieces of the Milky Way, but this apparent detachment is misleading because both are in orbit around it. Though the Magellanic Clouds are separate galaxies they are interacting with each other and with the Milky Way itself. Already the SMC has been substantially disrupted by this process, and the LMC distorted. Eventually the galaxies will merge with each other and with the Milky Way itself.

Related Images
AAT 28.   Wide angle view of the southern Milky Way
UKS 14.   The Large Magellanic Cloud
UKS 17.   The Small Magellanic Cloud
MISC 20. Comet Halley hanging in the Milky Way in 1986
The Magellanic Clouds and Comet Wilson (external site)

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Updated by David Malin, 2012, March 17