The Large Magellanic Cloud is a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way nearly 200,000 light-years from Earth.
The LMC is the third closest galaxy to the Milky Way. In fact the galaxy is thought to be orbiting inside the Milky Way.
Vast clouds of gas within it slowly collapse to form new stars. From the Tarantula Nebula, the brightest stellar nursery in our cosmic neighborhood, to LHA 120-N 11, the small and irregular galaxy is scattered with glowing nebulae, the most noticeable sign that new stars are being born.
Can we see it from Earth?
Yes, the Large Magellanic Cloud is visible to the unaided human eye. It is a familiar sight to observers in Earth’s Southern Hemisphere. Along with the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC) not far from it on our sky’s dome, it looks like nothing so much as a small, faint bit of the Milky Way that has broken off.
Where is it?
LMC lies in about 22 degrees from the South Celestial Pole, somewhere between the constellations Dorado and Mensa in a region of faint stars. It covers an area of the sky about 9 by 11 degrees. Also shines with a total integrated magnitude of approximately zero. It appears only as a faint stain.
The LMC is classified as a Magellanic spiral. It contains a well-known bar in its center, suggesting that it may have been a closed dwarf spiral galaxy before its spiral arms were disrupted, likely by the Milky Way’s gravity. The LMC’s present irregular appearance is likely the result of tidal interactions with both the Milky Way and the Small Magellanic Cloud.
How was it named?
In 1519, the prominent voyager called Ferdinand Magellan, on his voyage around the world sighted the Large Magellanic Cloud. His writings brought the LMC into common Western knowledge. Thus, the galaxy now bears his name.
Maybe you won’t believe it, but the first recorded mention of the Large Magellanic Cloud was around 964 AD. The Persian astronomer called Abd al-rahman al-Sufi, mentioned it in his Book of Fixed Stars.
The next recorded observation was in 1503–4 by Amerigo Vespucci. He wrote a letter about his third voyage where he mentions “three Canopes, two bright and one obscure.” “Bright” refers to the two Magellanic Clouds, and “obscure” refers to the Coalsack.