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.
A more conventional view of the Magellanic Clouds is shown below, while you can read more about the Planck project here and here.
Originally published by Cosmos as Planck’s painterly view of the Magellanic Clouds
Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.
Read science facts, not fiction...
There’s never been a more important time to explain the facts, cherish evidence-based knowledge and to showcase the latest scientific, technological and engineering breakthroughs. Cosmos is published by The Royal Institution of Australia, a charity dedicated to connecting people with the world of science. Financial contributions, however big or small, help us provide access to trusted science information at a time when the world needs it most. Please support us by making a donation or purchasing a subscription today.