A new photo shows what’s usually hidden within a galaxy not too far from home.
The image, created by mapping the atomic hydrogen gas within the Small Magellanic Cloud, may look like an explosion, but it represents the “most detailed radio image” of the dwarf galaxy, according to Australia’s CSIRO science organization.
“The new image captured by CSIRO’s Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder telescope reveals more gas around the edges of the galaxy, indicating a very dynamic past for the Small Magellanic Cloud,” Professor Naomi McClure-Griffiths, from the ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, said in a statement.
“Very dynamic” is a nice way of saying “violent.”
The new photo shows off the Small Magellanic Cloud’s scars from close brushes with larger galaxies in the past, according to McClure Griffiths.
The galaxy, which is located about 200,000 light-years away (not far from the Large Magellanic Cloud), also appears to have signs of star explosions within it which push gas out of the galaxy, she added.
“The outlook for this dwarf galaxy is not good, as it’s likely to eventually be gobbled up by our Milky Way,” McClure-Griffiths said.
“Together, the Magellanic Clouds are characterised by their distorted structures, a bridge of material that connects them, and an enormous stream of hydrogen gas that trails behind their orbit — a bit like a comet.”
The radio image isn’t what you’d see if you were to observe the Small Magellanic Cloud with your own eyes.
Scientists tried to piece together the cloud’s history by staring at it in a wavelength of light that people can’t see. That opens new avenues for discovery.
“Hydrogen is the fundamental building block of all galaxies and shows off the more extended structure of a galaxy than its stars and dust,” McClure-Griffiths said.
If you’re interested in spotting the Small Magellanic Cloud for yourself, it can be seen from the Southern Hemisphere on a dark night with the naked eye.