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Deep Space Spotlight: the Large Magellanic Cloud

The Large Magellanic Cloud
Photo: The Large Magellanic Cloud | ESO/VMC Survey

The Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) is a satellite of the Milky Way, as well as one of our closest galactic neighbors at 49.97 kiloparsecs (162,980.34 lightyears) away. It’s 14,000 light-years across, making it the 4th-largest galaxy in the Local Group,1 after the Andromeda Galaxy, the Milky Way, and the Triangulum Galaxy.

Detailed view of a section of the Large Magellanic Cloud, courtesy ESO

Detailed view of a section of the Large Magellanic Cloud | ESO

The LMC was the first galaxy to be classified as a Magellanic spiral, and serves as the prototype for all other galaxies to receive this classification. It is named after Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who observed the LMC during a 1519 sea voyage. Magellan was not the first to observe the LMC, however; the first known record of the galaxy was made by a Persian astronomer in 964 AD.

The LMC is predicted to collide with the Milky Way in approximately 2.4 billion years!

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1 the galaxy group that includes the Milky Way and its closest neighbors.