The Milky Way, our home galaxy, has two small irregular satellites: the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. Visible to the southern hemisphere observers with just the naked eye, they look like two fuzzy patches hanging in the sky (I've seen them myself, which was an extraordinary experience).
But they are entire galaxies in their own right! This Spitzer image of the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC) allows astronomers to study the stars and dust in infrared, so they can trace the life cycles of stars as they are born, grow old, and die. The SMC is a place of active star birth and death, so it's loaded with dust across its entire body.
Having a galaxy so close and open to observation is, for astronomers, like having a fully-stocked lab sitting in space. By studying the SMC we learn about all types of stars at all points in their lives, including stars like our Sun. I always get a thrill knowing that by looking out
, away from our home, we get to learn more about our own galaxy, our own star, and ourselves.Original blog postOriginal press releaseImage credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/STScI