Holidaying in country WA gives you an excellent opportunity to see something not normally visible under bright city lights.
The Large and Small Magellanic Clouds (sometimes abbreviated to LMC and SMC!) are galaxies outside of our own Milky Way Galaxy. From Earth, they look like two faint clouds in the southern night sky, one larger than the other, and form a splendid spectacle. They are only seen from the Southern Hemisphere.
The best time to see the Magellanic Clouds is when there’s no moonlight.
When to look: From 8.30pm, between 15th-26th January
Which direction to look: South. When you look directly south, the Southern Cross is very low to the horizon. So low, you may not see it. In the sky above, you should notice two very bright stars (Canopus and Achernar). The Magellanic Clouds are below these two stars and will look like small clouds.
For Telescopes and Binoculars
There’s a lot to see in the Small and Large Magellanic Clouds. Binoculars will bring these two satellite galaxies to life. If you have a telescope, try to find 47 Tucanae or 47 Tuc for short. Its catalogue number is NGC 104. 47 Tuc is a globular cluster of up to half a million stars and is 15,000 light years from Earth. So even though it looks like it could be part of the Small Magellanic Cloud, it’s not. Check out this NASA image…
The Milky Way is part of a group of galaxies that are all linked together by the pull of gravity, called the Local Group. There are about 54 galaxies in our Local Group. These are mostly dwarf galaxies clustered around the 3 largest of Milky Way, Andromeda and Triangulum.
The Magellanic Clouds are two of our closest galactic neighbours in the Local Group.
The Large Magellanic Cloud is about 160,000 light years from Earth and the Small Magellanic cloud is a bit further at 200,000 light years away. That’s very close, astronomically speaking!
They are both classified as irregular galaxies. Our bigger Milky Way is exerting gravitational forces that are slowly pulling them out of shape.
These galaxies were named after the Portuguese sailor Ferdinand Magellan who completed the first circumnavigation of the Earth from 1519 to 1522, using the ‘clouds at night’ to voyage into the southern seas.