The universe is constantly changing, and people are always discovering new things about our world. One famous explorer, Ferdinand Magellan, was one of the first Europeans to see the clouds that are now known as the “Magellanic Clouds.”
The two Magellanic Clouds are both visible from Earth in the southern hemisphere. You would not be able to see them from the United States, or anywhere else in the Northern hemisphere. Although they are called ‘clouds’ they are actually galaxies. The Magellanic Clouds are abbreviated to LMC (Larger Magellanic Cloud) and SMC (Smaller Magellanic Cloud). They contain the colorful remains of Supernovas. Supernovas’ are colorful expanding clouds of fiery gas. They are the leftovers of huge stars that exploded thousands and thousands of years ago.
The SMC is one of the most distant objects seen from Earth. This cloud is smaller than the Larger Magellanic Cloud, but it is huge compared to our sun! SMC’s mass is seven billion times that of our sun. It is 200,000 light years away from our galaxy, the Milky Way.
The Larger Magellanic Cloud is 170,000 light years from our galaxy and is classed as an irregular galaxy. It is home to the Tarantula Nebula, where many new stars are born. The Tarantula Nebula contains some of the most massive stars we know of.
Scientists have several different theories about how the Magellanic Clouds came so close to our Milky Way Galaxy. It is thought that the Magellanic Clouds and Milky Way Galaxy are connected by a stream of hydrogen gas. This hydrogen stream was probably created when the clouds were passing through the halo of the Milky Way and material was stripped off them. Another theory is that LMC and SMC passed near to each other and triggered bursts of star formation. The impressive winds and explosions that followed could have started the Magellanic Clouds flowing towards our own galaxy.
These colorful galaxies are still being researched and there are still more questions to be answered.
[Source: Space: A Visual Encyclopedia]