- Magellanic cloud
either of two irregular galactic clusters in the southern heavens that are the nearest independent star system to the Milky Way.[1675-85]
* * *Either of two irregular companion galaxies of the Milky Way Galaxy, named for Ferdinand Magellan, whose crew discovered them during the first voyage around the world.They share a gaseous envelope and lie about 22° apart in the sky near the southern celestial pole (see celestial sphere). They are visible to the unaided eye in the Southern Hemisphere but cannot be seen from northern latitudes. The Large Magellanic Cloud is more than 150,000 light-years from Earth; the Small Magellanic Cloud is roughly 200,000 light-years away. They are excellent laboratories for the study of the formation and evolution of stars.
* * *either of two satellite galaxies (galaxy) of the Milky Way Galaxy, the vast star system of which Earth is a minor component. These companion galaxies were named for the Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan (Magellan, Ferdinand), whose crew discovered them during the first voyage around the world (1519–22).The Magellanic Clouds are irregular galaxies that share a gaseous envelope and lie about 22° apart in the sky near the south celestial pole. One of them, the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), is a luminous patch about 5° in diameter, and the other, the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC), measures less than 2° across. The Magellanic Clouds are visible to the unaided eye in the Southern Hemisphere, but they cannot be observed from the northern latitudes. The LMC is about 160,000 light-years (light-year) from Earth, and the SMC lies 190,000 light-years away. The LMC and SMC are 14,000 and 7,000 light-years in diameter, respectively, and are smaller than the Milky Way Galaxy, which is about 140,000 light-years across.The Magellanic Clouds were formed at about the same time as the Milky Way Galaxy, approximately 13 billion years ago. They are presently captured in orbits around the Milky Way Galaxy and have experienced several tidal encounters with each other and with the Galaxy. They contain numerous young stars and star clusters (star cluster), as well as some much older stars. The Magellanic Clouds serve as excellent laboratories for the study of very active stellar formation and evolution. With the Hubble Space Telescope it is possible for astronomers to study the kinds of stars, star clusters, and nebulae (nebula) that previously could be observed in great detail only in the Milky Way Galaxy.Paul W. Hodge
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