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Either of two irregular companion galaxies of the Milky Way Galaxy, named for Ferdinand Magellan, whose crew discovered them during the first voyage around the world. They share a gaseous envelope and lie about 22° apart in the sky near the southern celestial pole (seecelestial sphere). They are visible to the unaided eye in the Southern Hemisphere but cannot be seen from northern latitudes. The Large Magellanic Cloud is more than 150,000 light-years from Earth; the Small Magellanic Cloud is roughly 200,000 light-years away. They are excellent laboratories for the study of the formation and evolution of stars.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on Magellanic Cloud, visit Britannica.com.