The Small Magellanic cloud is of prime significance in 20th century astronomy. It is one of the rarest celestial objects that humans can see without the aid of the telescope. An important relationship called "period luminosity" was deduced from the stars belonging to this galaxy, due to which astronomers were able to gauge the distance to star clusters and nearby galaxies for the very first time. Small Magellanic Cloud also known as NGC-292 is a small irregularly shaped galaxy having a diameter of 7,ooo light years. It encircles the south celestial pole. Its distance from earth is about 200,000 light-years away. Its sister galaxy called the Large Magellanic Cloud also lies very near to it. The Small Magellanic Cloud can be well observed from the Earth's southern hemisphere. Like the Milky way it forms part of the Local Group. The visual brightness of this galaxy is 2.3 in magnitude.
Both Large and Small Magellan clouds appear like two fuzzy patches or clouds in the sky to those living in the Southern hemisphere. Both of these are irregular galaxies. As compared to the Large Magellanic cloud, the Small Magellanic cloud is farther to the south. Also Small Magellanic cloud is not visible from North America, Northern Africa and the entirety of Europe and Asia, unlike its sister galaxy.
The Small Magellanic Cloud derives its name from the Portuguese explorer Fernando de Magellan.In 1519, Magellan observed this galaxy during his voyage around the world. But the people in the southern hemisphere may have observed the galaxy long before Magellan as it is visible to the naked eye against a dark-sky.
Earlier, astronomers thought and advocated that both the sister galaxies were orbiting the Milky Way. According to recent research, the velocity of both galaxies is high enough to escape gravitational effect of the Milky Way. Actually, they are passing by the spiral Milky way for the first time.
Images of the Small Magellanic Cloud display the satellites orbiting Earth. Also the nebulae and star clusters can be seen. We can also observe the globular clusters of the Milky Way i.e. NGC 104 and NGC 362.
The Small Magellanic Cloud is at about 20 degrees from the South Celestial Pole in the south east corner of the constellation Tucana. To see it clearly, the observer should look about 15 degrees below the bright far southern star Achernar in the constellation Eridanus, named after the river.
Small Magellanic Cloud has an area of 2.5 by 5 degrees in dimension. With a brightness spread over about 13 square degrees it is hard to locate and is better seen in dark skies.