There are two little clouds that can only be seen from southern latitudes. Even on cloudless summer nights these two clouds are ever persistent. If you face south to southwest and slowly gaze slightly upward, you will notice them – one a bit larger than the other but night after night always taking on the same form. These two clouds do not belong to the Earth’s weather pattern at all but are actually two, very far away irregular dwarf galaxies called the Large and Small Magellanic clouds.
At a distance of 179,000 light years away, they were known as the Earth ‘s closest neighbouring galaxies until another galaxy, the Sagittarius Dwarf Elliptical Galaxy, which is 80,0000 light years away, was discovered in 1994.
However, not to be upstaged by the new discovery, the Magellanic Clouds will always hold appeal because of the fact that they both are clearly visible to the naked eye as well as being south circumpolar objects, sometimes a bit higher in the sky and sometimes dipping low towards the horizon. If you own binoculars, take a closer look at these two clouds. You are not going to see rain there but I can assure you that a pretty picture will unfold.
When I am at Betty’s Bay I gaze up at the sky regularly just to confirm that they can actually still be seen with the naked eye I am always relieved that although I have new neighbours who tend to leave on outside lights throughout the night, I am still able to find the galaxies without the aid of my telescope.
A note to all Betty’s Bay residents: From where I live near city lights I cannot see the Magellanic Clouds at all. Like so much else that is precious about Betty’s Bay, the night skies also need to be preserved.