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The Large Magellanic Cloud

The Large Magellanic Cloud

The Large Magellanic Cloud is one of about 2 dozen small galaxies orbiting our home Galaxy, the Milky Way. The Large Magellanic Cloud, often called the LMC, is not the nearest of these satellite galaxies but is the least obscured by the dust and stars in our own Galaxy. This unobstructed view makes it an excellent target for studies investigating how clumps of gas collapse to form clusters stars, for witnessing powerful explosions from dying stars (supernovae), and for observations that have proven the existence of Dark Matter.

The LMC and its companion galaxy, called the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC), are visible from the southern hemisphere. To the human eye they are hardly distinguishable from clouds in the sky, except that they appear in the same pattern night after night. Images from those telescopes that detect light visible to the human eye often display only the brightest light from the LMC. In these images the LMC seems to have an irregular shape. However if the faintest light is displayed, the galaxy's real form becomes apparent. It has the shape of a disk, with spiral arms, like our own Milky Way. This disk is tilted toward us on Earth such that it appears that we are looking at it from above (that is, face-on). This disk is even more apparent in images produced from radio emission which maps the gas between the stars. However the LMC has about 1/20 the diameter of our Galaxy and 1/10 the number of stars.


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