(KMOV) -- Astronomers at NASA and Pennsylvania State University have used a satellite to create the most detailed ultraviolet light surveys ever of the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, the two closest major galaxies.
Astronomers used imagery from NASA’s Swift Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope to create stunning mosaics. That resulted in a 160-megapixel mosaic image of the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) and a 57-megapixel mosaic image of the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC).
“We took thousands of images and assembled them into seamless portraits of the main body of each galaxy, resulting in the highest-resolution surveys of the Magellanic Clouds at ultraviolet wavelengths,” said Stefan Immler, who proposed the program and led NASA’s contribution to the project.
The new images reveal about 1 million ultraviolet sources in the LMC and about 250,000 in the SMC. The images include light ranging from 1,600 to 3,300 angstroms, which is a range of UV wavelengths largely blocked by Earth’s atmosphere.
“Prior to these images, there were relatively few UV observations of these galaxies, and none at high resolution across such wide areas, so this project fills in a major missing piece of the scientific puzzle,” said Michael Siegel, the lead scientist for Swift’s Ultraviolet/Optical Telescope.
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The LMC and SMC lie about 163,000 light-years and 200,000 light-years away, respectively, and orbit each other as well as Earth’s Milky Way galaxy. The LMC is about one-tenth the size of the Milky Way and contains only 1 percent of the Milky Way’s mass. The SMC is half the size of the LMC and contains about two-thirds of its mass.
Despite their modest sizes, the galaxies loom large in the sky because they are so close to Earth. Both extend far beyond the telescope’s field of view, which meant thousands of images were needed in order to cover both galaxies.