As the galaxy turns


Precise observations reveal the rotation of the Large Magellanic Cloud.


The Large Magellanic Cloud overlaid with lines representing its rotational movement.
The Large Magellanic Cloud overlaid with lines representing its rotational movement.
ESA/Gaia/DPAC

The Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) is one of the nearest galaxies to our Milky Way. This image shows it as viewed by the European Space Agency’s Gaia satellite, using information from the mission’s second data release.

The picture was generated by combining the total amount of radiation detected by Gaia in each pixel with measurements of the radiation taken through different filters on the spacecraft to generate colour information. Information about the proper motion of stars – their velocity across the sky – is represented as the texture of the image.

After measuring the proper motion of several million stars in the LMC, astronomers were able to use an image processing technique called line integral convolution to see an imprint of the stars slowly rotating clockwise around the centre of the galaxy.

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