Nubecula Major the Large Magellenic Cloud

Asterism Visual Appearance

Located between: Hydrus, Mons Mensae, Reticulus, Dorado the Swordfish (Xiphias).

Asterism Origin and History

The Large and Small Magellenic clouds (LMC and SMC) are satellite galaxies bubbled off of the Milky Way like spray from a fountain. However, some astronomers consider them galaxies in their own right (the LMC has a degree of spiral structure). These bright regions of light, observed by Ferdinand Magellan in 1519 and by other early explorers like Amerigo Vespucci and Marco Polo, are also known as Cape Clouds.

The LMC (166,000 LY away) lies almost between Canopus and the south pole, or on a line from Sirius through Canopus. The LMC contains the Tarantula Nebula.

The SMC (slightly farther than the LMC) lies almost between Achernar and the south pole in the constellation Tucana the Toucan.

On February 23-24 in 1987 the Large Magellenic Cloud was the site of Supernova 1987A. It "went off like a firecracker" and was observed by two astronomers at a remote mountain observatory near Las Campanas, Chile (29 degrees south latitude). Ian Shelton and Oscar Duhalde both observed this new star flare up only 4 degrees from the south ecliptic pole. At maximum intensity three months later the supernova was at magnitude 2.8, about the same brightness as the fourth brightest star of Crux. Then it grew redder, and by the end of the year diminished to the threshold of naked-eye visibility.

Supernova 1987A was the first naked-eye supernova in or near our galaxy since the invention of the telescope. The last two were Kepler’s Supernova, which appeared in Ophiuchus in 1604, and Tycho’s Star, which appeared in Cassiopeia in 1572. Tycho’s Star was visible for 16 months, and at its brightest could be seen in full daylight. The Crab Nebula in Taurus is believed by many to be the result of a supernova in 1054.