Why are the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds not listed among the Caldwell objects? They are also not given in Stephen James O’Meara’s book The Messier Objects in the list of 20 spectacular non-Messier objects nor among O’Meara’s 20 spectacular non-Caldwell objects in The Caldwell Objects. Are they too bright?

Large and Small Magellanic Clouds
Southern Hemisphere observers can see the Large Magellanic Cloud (left) and the Small Magellanic Cloud (right). The Large Cloud has a prominent bar that can easily be perceived with the aid of binoculars.
Courtesy Akira Fujii

The Large and Small Magellanic Clouds — two spectacular, naked-eye companion galaxies to our Milky Way — are very worthy of attention. Indeed, native peoples in the Southern Hemisphere recognized them in antiquity. The Maori of New Zealand saw them as celestial clouds. The Aborigines of central Australia referred to them as “the camps of brothers who come to Earth to punish lawbreakers and reward good individuals.”

Their modern names honor Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan, who spied them on his sailing expedition around the world. Magellan’s scrivener, Antonio Pigafetta, recorded in January 1521: “On the South Pole can’t be seen the same constellations as on the North Pole. Here there are two groups of small misty stars, which resemble little clouds, which are not much remote from each other.” They are not Caldwell objects because each galaxy is its own “Milky Way” with myriad telescopic wonders that could fill a catalog. They are not included in my lists of 20 spectacular non-Messier and non-Caldwell objects because they cannot be seen from my home in Hawaii. And while I have seen them on occasion from the Southern Hemisphere, I have not had a chance to study them in detail, so I didn’t feel justified in listing them among my favorites.

— Stephen James O’Meara


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