The Large Magellanic Cloud, about 160,000 light-years away, is the large red and orange blob near the centre of the image, while the Small Magellanic Cloud, some 200,000 light-years from Earth, is the vaguely triangular-shaped object to the lower left.
The clouds, classed as dwarf galaxies, cannot be seen from the higher northern latitude and so were unknown to scientists in Europe until the 16th century. Civilisations in the Southern Hemisphere and the Middle East, however, knew of them much earlier.
The distinctive look of the image, almost like brushstrokes on a canvas, is the result of a visualisation of data from ESA’s Planck satellite. The image portrays the interaction between interstellar dust and the structure of magnetic fields.
Planck detected the dust between the stars pervading the Magellanic Clouds while surveying the sky to study the cosmic microwave background – the most ancient light in the Universe – in unprecedented detail.
Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.
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