Magellanic Clouds Facts

For many years the Magellanic Clouds, also called Nubeculae Magellani were thought to be one single galaxy that was close to us that was of the irregular or undefined type.

Magellanic Cloud Profile

Constellation:Dorado & Mensa
Also known as:LMC or Irregular dwarf galaxies
Type:Disrupted Barred Spiral
Diameter:14,000 light years
Distance:163,000 light years
Mass:10 billion M☉
Number of Stars:30 billion

It turns out that the Magellanic Clouds are really two irregular dwarf galaxies.

They belong to out “Local Group” which also contains the Milky Way Galaxy, and they can be viewed from the southern hemisphere of Earth.

Who discovered Magellanic Clouds

Once scientists discovered that there were two distinct regions they define the first region as a bar that has an irregular shape that is wrapped around the second region which is a small dwarf galaxy.

The clouds were named after famed explorer. Ferdinand Magellan.

The Large Magellanic Clouds is officially called a “disrupted barred spiral galaxy” and is around 163,000 light-years from us.

Scientists believe that there are nearing 30 billion stars in the Large Magellanic Cloud. The scientific designation is LMC (Large Magellanic Cloud).

The Small Magellanic Cloud’s designation is SMC (Small Magellanic Cloud) and is a dwarf galaxy around 197,000 light-years away.


Our ancient ancestors used the Magellanic Clouds as a tool for navigation. They were easily recognizable in the sky and were steady and reliable. Some evidence shows that certain cultures talks about the clouds as far back as the first millennium.

Al Sufi was an ancient Persian astronomer that mentions the Large Magellanic Clouds in his 964 book called Book of Fixed Stars.

In the 1400’s, two Italian explorers became the first Europeans to describe and observe the Magellanic Clouds.

Within a few years, many Europeans were using the clouds to help during travel at sea.

Ferdinand Magellan made use of the structure of the clouds to assist as he circumnavigated the globe in the 1500s.

What astronomers  thought

At one time in history, astronomers thought that the Magellanic Clouds actually orbited around the Milky Way Galaxy. However, once further research was done, it was discovered that this situation wasn’t possible due to their high speed.

Additional research has led scientists to recognize that the clouds are mostly made up of gaseous elements and it is doubtful that they contain any metallic elements.

The Milky Way

The Milky Way’s gravity affects the Magellanic Clouds when they pass by. The effect creates a condition where the cloud shapes begin to distort as well as distortion occurring on the Milky Way’s outer edges.

Researchers have speculated that the SMC might have once been a single lone galaxy and that the galaxy that spun off the LMC actually collided with that single galaxy to create what exists today.

One of the areas that is part of the LMC is the Tarantula Nebula.

This is considered to be one of the most active regions that is visible to us for the creation of stars. The area has highly compressed dust and gas and in 1987 had a supernova.

The Magellanic Clouds are best viewed from our southern hemisphere, however, when you see them they appear as if they might be pieces of the Milky Way that are just floating in space.

It is the huge distances that give them that illusion. Up until 1994, when the Sagittarius Dwarf Elliptical Galaxy was discovered, the Magellanic Clouds were listed as the closest to the Milky Way Galaxy.

Facts about Magellanic Clouds

  • The interactions between the Milky Way Galaxy and the Magellanic Clouds is very complex. Tidal interactions seem to strengthen the connection as the Milky Way collects gases from the clouds.
  • The differences between the Magellanic Clouds and the Milky Way Galaxy include the fact that the clouds are much richer in gases such as hydrogen and helium,
  • SMC, the dwarf galaxy contains metals that are around one fourth of those that the Milky Way Galaxy contains.
  • The presence of so much more pressurized gases, combine with fewer metals make star formation in the Magellanic Clouds much faster.
  • It’s believed that there are stars in the Magellanic Clouds that have existed for billions of years.


  • What are the two scientific designations for the Magellanic Clouds?
    LMC and SMC
  • Who are the Magellanic Clouds named after?
    Ferdinand Magellan
  • Does the Magellanic Clouds contain a lot of gases and metals?
    no, only a lot of gases
  • Where did previous astronomers think the Magellanic Clouds exist?
    as part of an outer area of the Milky Way Galaxy
  • How many parts make up the Magellanic Clouds?
  • The Magellanic Clouds were useful for what ancient purpose?
    navigation tool