Skip Discover Education Main Navigation
Skip Discover Education Main Navigation


Magellanic Clouds

The Milky Way is part of a cluster of about 30 galaxies called the Local Group. Our closest neighbors in this cluster are two small irregular galaxies, the Large Magellanic Cloud and the Small Magellanic Cloud. They are known assatellite galaxiesbecause they orbit the Milky Way.

These small ?star clouds? are only visible in the night sky from the southern hemisphere. They were named after the explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who spotted them in 1519 as he made the first voyage around the world.


The Large Magellanic Cloud is the closest of the two galaxies?about 170,000 light-years away. Containing about 15 billion stars, it is about a quarter the size of the Milky Way. The red puff seen at one end of this galaxy is the Tarantula nebula, a cloud of gas and dust. It is the largest nebula ever seen.

The Small Magellanic Cloud is about 200,000 light-years away and contains about 5 billion stars.

Answers From the Expert
You will need RealPlayer 7 to listen to the audio files. Clickherefor a free download.

Frank Summers, American Museum of Natural History
? Why do the Small and Large Magellanic Clouds orbit the Milky Way?

Click here for Frank's answer.

? Are any planets found in these irregular galaxies?

Click here for Frank's answer.

Previous Galaxy: The Milky Way Next Galaxy: Andromeda

Galaxy Tour Home

Home|It's Awesome|Galaxy Tour|Stargazers
Mind Game|Light Years|Cosmic Calendar|At the Museum|Teacher Tips