Large Magellanic Clou

The Large Magellanic Cloud is a dwarf galaxy, a satellite of the Milky Way and a member of the Local Group. It is one of the so-called Magellanic Clouds of the southern terrestrial hemisphere.

It is located 163,000 light years from Earth, and is visible to the naked eye.

In the cover image, you can see one of our nearest galactic neighbours.

VISTA telescope has been surveying this galaxy and in unprecedented detail. This survey allows astronomers to observe a large number of stars, opening up new opportunities to study stellar evolution, galactic dynamics, and variable stars.

Large Magellanic Cloud is the third closest galaxy to the Milky Way, after the Can Mayor galaxy and the Sagittarius galaxy.

Discovery of the Large Magellanic Cloud

The Large Magellanic Cloud remained unknown in classical antiquity because, being near the south pole of the ecliptic, it is not visible at any time from Mediterranean latitudes.

One of the first mentions of a “cloud” seen in the midst of the stars of the southern hemisphere, was made in 1504 by Americo Vespucci in a letter in which he made references to his third voyage.

Fernando de Magallanes (1480-1521), in his circumnavigation trip around the Earth, was the first to make the West aware of the existence of this “cloud” that today bears his name.

Magellanes Cloud
Small part of the Large Magellanic Cloud. Credit: ESA/Hubble.

The first to study the Large Magellanic Cloud in detail was John Herschel, who settled in Cape Town between 1834 and 1838, analyzing 278 diverse objects comprised within it.

Until the discovery of the Sagittarius galaxy in 1994, the Large Magellanic Cloud was considered the closest galaxy to the Milky Way.

What is the Large Magellanic Cloud?

In NASA’s database of extragalactic objects, the Large Magellanic Cloud is classified as a barred spiral galaxy, without a ring structure, of non-regular shape and without a central nucleus.

The irregular appearance of the galaxy is likely the result of interactions with both the Milky Way and the Small Magellanic Cloud.

Magellanes Cloud
This ground-based image of the Large Magellanic Cloud was taken by German astrophotographer Eckhard Slawik. Credit: ESA.

The Large Magellanic Cloud has a diameter of approximately 35,000 light years.

Its mass is about 30,000 million times the solar mass, one-tenth the mass of the Milky Way.

The most recent observations suggest that the Large Magellanic Cloud has an inclination of 35º, considering that 0º corresponds to a galaxy whose plane is perpendicular to us.

What’s in the Large Magellanic Cloud?

The Large Magellanic Cloud is very rich in gas and dust. It is currently going through an active phase of star formation and contains about 30 billion stars.

Various studies have found that the Large Magellanic Cloud is rich in celestial objects and phenomena of all kinds:

  • about 60 globular clusters – slightly less than half that of the Milky Way ,
  • 400 planetary nebulae,
  • 700 open clusters, responsible for lighting the cloud, and
  • Hundreds of thousands of giant and super-giant stars.

Supernova SN 1987A was discovered on its periphery. This supernova has been the closest observed throughout the 20th century.

Light from the supernova reached Earth on February 23, 1987. Credit: Wikipedia. “Observatorio Las Campanas”.

The most luminous star in the galaxy is S Doradus, a luminous blue variable whose absolute magnitude can reach -10.

The red supergiant, WOH G64, has an estimated diameter of 2,000 times that of the Sun.

Two other hypergiant stars have recently been observed in the interior of the galaxy, R 66 and R 126.