A celestial menagerie on display in the Large Magellanic Cloud

June 2nd, 2010 - 3:05 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, June 2 (ANI): In a spectacular new image from the Wide Field Imager (WFI) at ESO’s La Silla Observatory in Chile, astronomers have discovered a celestial menagerie of vast globular clusters and the remains left by brilliant supernova explosions in the LMC or Large Magellanic Cloud.

The Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) is only about 160,000 light-years from our own Milky Way — very close on a cosmic scale. This proximity makes it a very important target as it can be studied in far more detail than more distant systems.

This fascinating observation provides data for a wide variety of research projects unravelling the life and death of stars and the evolution of galaxies.

The LMC lies in the constellation of Dorado (the Swordfish), less than one tenth the mass of Milky Way and spanning just 14,000 light-years compared to about 100,000 light-years for our home galaxy. Astronomers refer to it as an irregular dwarf galaxy.

The galaxy is filled with dozens of clusters of young stars can be seen as well as traces of glowing gas clouds. The LMC also has globular clusters, one of which is called NGC 1978.

NGC 1978 is believed to be just 3.5 billion years old. The presence of this kind of object in the LMC leads astronomers to think that the LMC has a more recent history of active star formation than our own Milky Way.

The LMC has also seen many spectacular stellar deaths in the form of brilliant supernova explosions. A remnant of one such supernova, a strangely shaped wispy cloud called DEM L 190, often also referred to as N49, is the brightest in the LMC, and is about 30 light-years across.

At the center lies a magnetar, a neutron star with an extremely powerful magnetic field. It was only in 1979 that satellites orbiting Earth detected a powerful gamma-ray burst from this object, drawing attention to the extreme properties of this new class of stellar exotica created by supernova explosions.

With so much activity, it is easy to see why astronomers are so keen to study the strange creatures in this heavenly zoo. (ANI)

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