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Motion of two nearby galaxies clouds the picture

Astronomers may have to rewrite the textbooks on the two galaxies closest to the Milky Way. A new analysis confirms previous indications that the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds are not gravitationally bound to our galaxy but are instead speeding by, having come this way just 1 billion to 3 billon years ago.

Visible to the naked eye as bright clouds, the two galaxies are small and irregular. The Large Magellanic Cloud is about 160,000 light-years from the Milky Way and has about one-twentieth the Milky Way's diameter, while the Small Magellanic Cloud, one-200th the Milky Way's size, lies about 200,000 light-years distant.

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