What are the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds?

The Milky Way's two closest galactic neighbors, visible to naked-eye observers in the Southern Hemisphere, are the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. They were named after explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who first recorded their existence in 1519.

Large and Small Magellanic Clouds

How large or small are the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds?
These two galaxies are relatively small and irregular in shape. The Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) is about 32,600 light-years across and 163,000 light-years from Earth. The Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC) is about 19,560 light-years wide and 195,600 light-years away. Each Magellanic cloud contains only a few percent of the mass of the Milky Way, which is approximately 100,000 light-years in diameter. In comparison, the An­dromeda, our closest major galaxy at 2.2 million light-years away, is about two times the size of our home galaxy. Both Magellanic galaxies exist within a cloud of cool neu­tral hydrogen gas, which extends far out into space. The total gas stream contains as much mass as ten billion suns combined.