Large and Small Magellanic Clouds


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Irregular dwarf satellite galaxies orbiting the Milky Way galaxy. Both the Large Magellanic Cloud and the Small Magellanic Cloud are visible from the southern hemisphere. As early as the ancient times these clouds were described in books of Arabic astronomers. They were named after Ferdinand Magellan, a great explorer, who observed magnificent and spectacular galaxies during his expedition around the world.

The Magellanic Clouds look like detached pieces of the Milky Way, but this apparent detachment is misleading because they are interacting with our galaxy thanks to gravity – they orbit around it as satellite galaxies. Modern astronomers estimate that the Large Magellanic Cloud consist of over 30 billion stars and countless number of globular clusters. It lies around 160 thousand light years from Earth. This galaxy has a total mass of 20 billion times the mass of the Sun. The Small Magellanic Cloud consists of few hundred millions stars and lies 200 thousand light years from our planet. 

The Magellanic Clouds have been known since the earliest times to the ancient Middle Eastern people. The first preserved mention of the Large Magellanic Cloud is by the Persian astronomer Al Sufi in the late 1st century. By Europeans, the Clouds were first observed by Portuguese sailors who accompanied the expedition of Ferdinand Magellan.