This Is A Temperature Map Of The Small Magellanic Cloud

ESA's Herschel space observatory and NASA's Spitzer space telescope joined forces to map out the temperatures of the Small Magellanic Cloud from a chilly -260°C to a relatively-warm -150°C.

The Small Magellanic Cloud. Image credit: ESA/NASA/JPL-Caltech/STScI

From NASA's image release:

This new image shows the Small Magellanic Cloud galaxy in infrared light from the Herschel Space Observatory a European Space Agency-led mission with important NASA contributions, and NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. The Large and Small Magellanic Clouds are the two biggest satellite galaxies of our home galaxy, the Milky Way, though they are still considered dwarf galaxies compared to the big spiral of the Milky Way.

In combined data from Herschel and Spitzer, the irregular distribution of dust in the Small Magellanic Cloud becomes clear. A stream of dust extends to the left in this image, known as the galaxy's "wing," and a bar of star formation appears on the right.

The colors in this image indicate temperatures in the dust that permeates the Cloud. Colder regions show where star formation is at its earliest stages or is shut off, while warm expanses point to new stars heating surrounding dust. The coolest areas and objects appear in red, corresponding to infrared light taken up by Herschel's Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver at 250 microns, or millionths of a meter. Herschel's Photodetector Array Camera and Spectrometer fills out the mid-temperature bands, shown here in green, at 100 and 160 microns. The warmest spots appear in blue, courtesy of 24- and 70-micron data from Spitzer.

It Took 3 Instruments To Create This Image Of The Small Magellanic Cloud

When we see photos of space, the data doesn't always come from one place. This photo of the Small Magellanic Cloud comes from the European Space Agency's Herschel's Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver (SPIRE), Photodetector Array Camera and Spectrometer (PACS), and NASA's Spitzer's Multiband Imaging Photometer (MIPS).

Image Credit: ESA/NASA/JPL-Caltech/STScI

From the European Space Agency:

The colours within this image provide information about the temperature of the dust mixed with the gas throughout the galaxy. The slight green tint stretching towards the left of the frame and the red hue of the main body of the galaxy are from the Herschel observations, which highlight cold material, down to a chilly –260 degrees Celsius .

The brighter patches of blue were captured by Spitzer. These regions are made up of 'warmer' —about –150 degrees Celsius — gas and dust, and within some of these areas new stars are being born. These newborn stars in turn warm up their surroundings, resulting in intense clumps of heated gas and dust within the galaxy.

These clumps show up brightly in this image, tracing the shape of the galaxy clearly — the SMC is made up of a central 'bar' of star formation, visible on the right hand side, and then a more extended 'wing', stretching out towards the left of the frame.

Overall, the Small Magellanic Cloud is about 1/20th of the size of the Milky Way. It can be seen shining in the night sky of the southern hemisphere, and its brightest regions are easily visible to the naked eye. It is a satellite galaxy of our own — it orbits around the Milky Way along with its bigger companion, the Large Magellanic Cloud. These two galaxies have been extensively studied because of their proximity to us; astronomers can observe them relatively easily to explore how star formation and galactic evolution works in galaxies other than our own.