Mystery of the Milky Way’s neighbor: The Small Magellanic Cloud consists of two galaxies

An international team of astronomers has announced the discovery of evidence that one of the Milky Way’s closest neighbors is actually not one but two galaxies located one after the other. We are talking about the Small Magellanic Cloud.

Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. Photo: Wikipedia

Magellanic Clouds can be seen in the southern sky with the naked eye. For many years, they were considered the two largest moons of the Milky Way. However, back in the late 1980s, there was some evidence that the Small Magellanic Cloud was actually not one but two dwarf galaxies.

And now researchers have new arguments in favor of this theory. First, they studied data from the Gaia Space Observatory of the European Space Agency, which measured the average speed of movement in different parts of the galaxy. They also used data from ground-based observatories, which allowed them to learn more about the interstellar environment in this region.

The Small Magellanic Cloud. Source: ESO/VISTA VMC

After analyzing all the available data, the researchers found out that the Small Magellanic Cloud consisted of two parts of approximately the same mass but with a different chemical composition. Moreover, the stars that compose them have different speeds of movement. Those in the half closest to us are moving faster.

Astronomers explain all these facts by saying that the Small Magellanic Cloud actually consists of two separate galaxies, one of which is located almost behind the other relative to the Earth. That’s why we perceive them as a single object. According to scientists, the closer of the two galaxies is located about 199,000 light-years away, while the more distant one is located about 215,000 light-years away.

Earlier, we talked about the astronomers’ demand to rename the Magellanic Clouds.

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