The Magellanic Clouds, named for the Portuguese navigator Magellan, were first studied in detail by Sir John Herschel in the 19th cent. While studying Cepheid variable stars in the SMC, Henrietta Leavitt discovered (1912) the period-luminosity relation. This relation offered a technique for measuring the distances of stars and galaxies. In Feb., 1987, Supernova 1987A erupted in the LMC. The first supernova visible without a telescope since 1604, this star gradually brightened over the next few months and remains under careful observation as it fades. The diffuse nebulae in both the LMC and the SMC appear to have fewer
metals (elements heavier than helium); the deficiency is much more pronounced in the SMC.
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