Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2005 June 17
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The Small Cloud of Magellan
Credit & Copyright: Josch Hambsch, Robert Gendler

Explanation: Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan and his crew had plenty of time to study the southern sky during the first circumnavigation of planet Earth. As a result, two celestial wonders easily visible for southern hemisphere skygazers are known as the Clouds of Magellan. These cosmic clouds are now understood to be dwarf irregular galaxies, satellites of our larger spiral Milky Way Galaxy. The Small Magellanic Cloud pictured above actually spans 15,000 light-years or so and contains several hundred million stars. About 210,000 light-years distant in the constellation Tucana, it is the fourth closest of the Milky Way's known satellite galaxies, after the Canis Major and Sagittarius Dwarf galaxies and the Large Magellanic Cloud. This gorgeous view also includes two foreground globular star clusters NGC 362 (top left) and 47 Tucanae. Spectacular 47 Tucanae is a mere 13,000 light-years away and seen here to the right of the Small Magellanic Cloud.

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