Due to their close proximity, the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds (LMC/SMC) provide natural laboratories for understanding how galaxies form and evolve. With the goal of determining the structure and dynamical state of the SMC, we present new spectroscopic data for ∼3000 SMC red giant branch stars observed using the AAOmega spectrograph at the Anglo-Australian Telescope. We complement our data with further spectroscopic measurements from previous studies that used the same instrumental configuration as well as proper motions from the Gaia Data Release 2 catalogue. Analysing the photometric and stellar kinematic data, we find that the SMC centre of mass presents a conspicuous offset from the velocity centre of its associated H i gas, suggesting that the SMC gas is likely to be far from dynamical equilibrium. Furthermore, we find evidence that the SMC is currently undergoing tidal disruption by the LMC within 2 kpc of the centre of the SMC, and possibly all the way into the very core. This is revealed by a net outward motion of stars from the SMC centre along the direction towards the LMC and an apparent tangential anisotropy at all radii. The latter is expected if the SMC is undergoing significant tidal stripping, as we demonstrate using a suite of N-body simulations of the SMC/LMC system disrupting around the Milky Way. Our results suggest that dynamical models for the SMC that assume a steady state will need to be revisited.
Context. Understanding the evolutionary history of the Magellanic Clouds requires an in-depth exploration and characterization of the stellar content in their outer regions, which ultimately are key to tracing the epochs and nature of past interactions. Aims. We present new deep images of a shell-like overdensity of stars in the outskirts of the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC). The shell, also detected in photographic plates dating back to the fifties, is located at ∼1.9° from the center of the SMC in the north-east direction. Methods. The structure and stellar content of this feature were studied with multiband, optical data from the Survey of the MAgellanic Stellar History (SMASH) carried out with the Dark Energy Camera on the Blanco Telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory. We also investigate the kinematic of the stars in the shell using the Gaia Data Release 2. Results. The shell is composed of a young population with an age ∼150 Myr, with no contribution from an old population. Thus, it is hard to explain its origin as the remnant of a tidally disrupted stellar system. The spatial distribution of the young main-sequence stars shows a rich sub-structure, with a spiral arm-like feature emanating from the main shell and a separated small arc of young stars close to the globular cluster NGC 362. We find that the absolute g-band magnitude of the shell is Mg, shell = −10.78 ± 0.02, with a surface brightness of μg, shell = 25.81 ± 0.01 mag arcsec−2. Conclusion. We have not found any evidence that this feature is of tidal origin or a bright part of a spiral arm-like structure. Instead, we suggest that the shell formed in a recent star formation event, likely triggered by an interaction with the Large Magellanic Cloud and or the Milky Way, ∼150 Myr ago.