A Totally new View of the Large Magellanic Cloud (and more!) From Retired Telescopes

The Large Magellanic Cloud, as seen by the Herschel Space Telescope, Planck, COBE and IRAS. Credit: ESA and NASA.

ESA and NASA dusted off some old data from four retired space telescopes and combined forces to reveal new images of the four galaxies that our closest to our own Milky Way galaxy. One thing is common among the four new images: they are full of dust!

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Webb is Almost Ready. There’s One Last Thing To Do

What's JWST going to show us first? There's a sneak preview on Monday. Artist impression of the James Webb Space Telescope. Credit: ESA.

The James Webb Space Telescope is now in the final phase of commissioning as it readies for science observations. Of the more than 1,000 milestones the observatory has needed to reach since launch to become fully operational, the team said today they are down to about two hundred activities to go. But those 200 are all part of the final phase of commissioning the instruments.

“I call it the home stretch,” said Michael McElwain, Webb observatory project scientist in a media briefing on May 9. “There are 17 scientific modes we need to bring online in the next two months, and we need to demonstrate the telescope’s operational capabilities before we are ready to turn the science instruments loose on the Universe.”

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An Incredible View Into the Heart of the Small Magellanic Cloud

A radio-telescope image of the Small Magellanic Cloud reveals more detail than ever seen before. Image Credit: N. Pingel et al.

The Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC) is over 200,000 light-years away, yet it’s still one of our galaxy’s closest neighbours in space. Ancient astronomers knew of it, and modern astronomers have studied it intensely. But the SMC still holds secrets.

By studying it and revealing its structure in more detail, astronomers at The Australian National University hope to grow our understanding of the SMC and galaxies in general.

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A Black Hole has been Found Lurking Just Outside the Milky Way

This artist’s impression shows a compact black hole 11 times as massive as the Sun and the five-solar-mass star orbiting it. The two objects are located in NGC 1850, a cluster of thousands of stars roughly 160 000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a Milky Way neighbour. The distortion of the star’s shape is due to the strong gravitational force exerted by the black hole.  Not only does the black hole’s gravitational force distort the shape of the star, but it also influences its orbit. By looking at these subtle orbital effects, a team of astronomers were able to infer the presence of the black hole, making it the first small black hole outside of our galaxy to be found this way. For this discovery, the team used the Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) instrument at ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

Astronomers have found a smaller, stellar-mass black hole lurking in a nearby satellite galaxy of our own Milky Way.  The black hole has been hiding in a star cluster named NGC 1850, which is one of the brightest star clusters in the Large Magellanic Cloud. The black hole is 160,000 light-years away from Earth, and is estimated to be about 11 times the mass of our Sun.

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The Large Magellanic Cloud Stole one of its Globular Clusters

The Milky Way with the Small and Large Magellanic Clouds on the left. Image Credit: ESO/Y. Beletsky. CC 4.0

Astronomers have known for years that galaxies are cannibalistic. Massive galaxies like our own Milky Way have gained mass by absorbing smaller neighbours.

Now it looks like smaller galaxies like the Large Magellanic Cloud have also feasted on smaller neighbours.

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New All-Sky Map of the Milky Way’s Galactic Halo

The outer reaches of the Milky Way galaxy are a different place.  Stars are much harder to come by, with most of this “galactic halo” being made up of empty space.  But scientists theorize that there is an abundance of one particular thing in this desolate area – dark matter.  Now, a team from Harvard and the University of Arizona (UA) spent some time studying and modeling one of the galaxy’s nearest neighbors to try to tease out more information about that dark matter, and as a result came up with an all new way to look at the halo itself.

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It Took 50 Nights of Observations to Capture New Data on the Magellanic Clouds

Part of the SMASH dataset showing an unprecedented wide-angle view of the Large Magellanic Cloud. Image Credit: CTIO/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA/SMASH/D. Nidever (Montana State University) Acknowledgment: Image processing: Travis Rector (University of Alaska Anchorage), Mahdi Zamani & Davide de Martin

The Magellanic Clouds are two of our closest neighbours, in galactic terms. The pair of irregular dwarf galaxies were drawn into the Milky Way’s orbit in the distant past, and we’ve been looking up at them since the dawn of humanity. Some of our ancestors even gathered pigments and created images of them in petroglyphs and cave paintings.

Following in the footsteps of those ancient artists, astronomers recently used the Dark Energy Camera (DECam) to capture an in-depth portrait of the pair of galaxies.

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A History of the Magellanic Clouds and How They Got Their Names

Image of the night sky taken at the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile. The Large and Small Magellanic Clouds are visible in the night sky. Credit: ESO, Y. Beletsky

The Magellanic Clouds are a pair of dwarf galaxies that are bound to the Milky Way. The Milky Way is slowly consuming them in Borg-like fashion, starting with the gas halo that surrounds both Clouds. They’re visible in the southern sky, and for centuries people have gazed up at them. They’re named after the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, in our current times.

But they weren’t always called that.

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The Milky Way is Already Starting to Digest the Magellanic Clouds, Starting With Their Protective Halos of Hot Gas

A view of the gas in the Magellanic System as it would appear in the night sky. The Magellanic Corona covers the entire sky while the Magellanic Stream is seen as gas flowing away from the two dwarf galaxies, the Large and the Small Magellanic Clouds. This image, taken directly from the numerical simulations, has been modified slightly for aesthetics. Image Credit: COLIN LEGG / SCOTT LUCCHINI

Massive galaxies like our Milky Way gain mass by absorbing smaller galaxies. The Large Magellanic Cloud and the Small Magellanic Cloud are irregular dwarf galaxies that are gravitationally bound to the Milky Way. Both the clouds are distorted by the Milky Way’s gravity, and astronomers think that the Milky Way is in the process of digesting both galaxies.

A new study says that process is already happening, and that the Milky Way is enjoying the Magellanic Clouds’ halos of gas as an appetizer, creating a feature called the Magellanic Stream as it eats. It also explains a 50 year old mystery: Why is the Magellanic Stream so massive?

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An Upcoming Impact With the Magellanic Clouds is Already Causing Star Formation in the Milky Way

A newfound cluster of young stars (blue star) sits on the periphery of the Milky Way. These stars probably formed from material originating from neighboring dwarf galaxies called the Magellanic Clouds. Credit: NASA/D. Nidever

For some time, astronomers have known that collisions or mergers between galaxies are an integral part of cosmic evolution. In addition to causing galaxies to grow, these mergers also trigger new rounds of star formation as fresh gas and dust are injected into the galaxy. In the future, astronomers estimate that the Milky Way Galaxy will merge with the Andromeda Galaxy, as well as the Small and Large Magellanic Clouds in the meantime.

According to new results obtained by researchers at the Flatiron Institute’s Center for Computational Astrophysics (CCA) in New York city, the results of our eventual merger with the Magellanic Clouds is already being felt. According to results presented at the 235th meeting of the American Astronomical Society this week, stars forming in the outskirts of our galaxy could be the result of these dwarf galaxies merging with our own.

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