Magellanic Cloud

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General Information

The Large Magellanic Cloud and its neighbour and relative, the Small Magellanic Cloud, are conspicuous objects in the southern hemisphere, looking like separated pieces of the Milky Way to the naked eye. Roughly 21° apart in the night sky, the true distance between them is roughly 75,000 light-years. Until the discovery of the Sagittarius Dwarf Elliptical Galaxy in 1994, they were the closest known galaxies to our own. The LMC lies about 160,000 light years away,[7][8][9][10] while the SMC is around 200,000.[11] The LMC is about twice the diameter of the SMC (14,000 ly and 7,000 ly respectively). For comparison, the Milky Way is about 100,000 ly across.

Astronomers have long believed that the Magellanic Clouds have orbited the Milky Way at approximately their current distances, but evidence suggests that it is rare for them to come as close to the Milky Way as they are now.[12] Observation and theoretical evidence suggest that the Magellanic Clouds have both been greatly distorted by tidal interaction with the Milky Way as they travel close to it. Streams of neutral hydrogen connect them to the Milky Way and to each other, and both resemble disrupted barred spiral galaxies.[13] Their gravity has affected the Milky Way as well, distorting the outer parts of the galactic disk. Aside from their different structure and lower mass, they differ from our Galaxy in two major ways. First, they are gas-rich; a higher fraction of their mass is hydrogen and helium compared to the Milky Way.[14] They are also more metal-poor than the Milky Way; the youngest stars in the LMC and SMC have a metallicity of 0.5 and 0.25 times solar, respectively.[15] Both are noted for their nebulae and young stellar populations, but as in our own Galaxy their stars range from the very young to the very old, indicating a long stellar formation history.(Chaisson and McMillan)

The Large Magellanic Cloud was host galaxy to a supernova (SN 1987A), the brightest observed in over four centuries.