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There's something odd about our galactic neighbourhood, which Sidney van den Bergh at the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics in Canada highlights today in a short paper.

Astronomers have long known that the Milky Way's two closest neighbours are the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, giant clouds of stars, gas and dust called irregular galaxies.

This is strange for two reasons. These galaxies are much younger than ours and may have even formed together. It looks as if they may just be passing by, on their way to somewhere else. Most other galaxies like ours, such as Andromeda, don't have a single companion like this, so having two seems rather fortunate.

But there's something else as well. The Large Magellanic cloud is unusually luminous. In fact, there are only two other irregular galaxies in the entire local universe that come close. "In other words the Large Magellanic Cloud seems to be close to the upper luminosity limit for irregular galaxies," says van den Bergh. That's unusual too.

To read the rest of the article, click here.