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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.

2008 December 19
See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download
 the highest resolution version available.

The Large Cloud of Magellan
Credit & Copyright: Robert Gendler

Explanation: The 16th century 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 fuzzy cloud-like objects easily visible to southern hemisphere skygazers are known as the Clouds of Magellan, now understood to be satellite galaxies of our much larger, spiral Milky Way galaxy. About 160,000 light-years distant in the constellation Dorado, the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) is seen here in a remarkably detailed, 10 frame mosaic image. Spanning about 30,000 light-years or so, it is the most massive of the Milky Way's satellite galaxies and is the site of the closest supernova in modern times, SN 1987A. The prominent reddish knot near the bottom is 30 Doradus, or the Tarantula Nebula, a giant star-forming region in the Large Magellanic Cloud. To identify the location of the supernova and navigate your way around the many star clusters and nebulae of the LMC, just consult this well-labeled view.


Tomorrow's picture: solstice at Newgrange


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