The Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) is one of the nearest galaxies to our Milky Way galaxy. It’s located around 166,000 light-years away and visible to the naked eye at intermediate and southern latitudes.
With a mass roughly equivalent to ten billion times the mass of our sun – about one tenth of the Milky Way – the LMC is home to an intense star-forming activity, forming stars five time faster than in our galaxy.
The image above, based on data collected by the ESA’s Gaia satellite during its first 14 months of operations, shows the large scale distribution of stars in the LMC, clearly delineating the full extent of the spiral arms. It is peppered with bright dots – faint clusters of stars – and presents a series of diagonal stripes along the central thick structure, or bar, which are an artefact caused by Gaia’s scanning procedure and will gradually decrease as more data are gathered throughout the lifetime of the mission.
Te European Space Agency’s (ESA) Gaia satellite launched in December 2013 and reached its orbit in January 2014. Gaia’s mission is to chart a three-dimensional map of our Galaxy, the Milky Way, in the process revealing the composition, formation and evolution of the galaxy. The first batch of Gaia data, released in 2016 and based on 14 months of science operations, contained the position and brightness of more than one billion stars. Most of these stars are located in the Milky Way, but a good fraction are extragalactic, with around ten million belonging to the LMC. The second release of Gaia data is planned for April 2018.
Bottom line: View of the Large Magellanic Cloud by the ESA’s Gaia satellite.
Eleanor Imster has helped write and edit EarthSky since 1995. She was an integral part of the award-winning EarthSky radio series almost since it began until it ended in 2013. Today, as Lead Editor at EarthSky.org, she helps present the science and nature stories and photos you enjoy. She also serves as one of the voices of EarthSky on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and G+. She and her husband live in Tennessee and have two grown sons.