Hubble Telescope images of the Small Magellanic Cloud

The Small Magellanic Cloud is one of the closest galaxies to the Milky Way and is easily seen from the Southern Hemisphere. Credit: NASA/ESA/A. Nota (STScI/ESA)

Astronomy and astrophysics

The galactic smash that birthed a slew of stars

Star clusters in nearby galaxies might have had a violent beginning.

A collision between two nearby galaxies might have triggered a burst of star formation in both around 200 million years ago.

The Small and Large Magellanic Clouds are satellite galaxies of the Milky Way. Theodoros Bitsakis of the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Morelia and his colleagues analysed the star ‘clusters’ of the smaller galaxy, each of which contains hundreds or thousands of stars that were all born at the same time. The researchers found that most clusters in the smaller galaxy formed about 240 million years ago — around the same time as the clusters in the larger galaxy.

Simulations by other teams suggest that the two galaxies slammed into each other just before the star clusters formed. The proposed collision could have triggered the bursts of star formation in both systems, the authors say.