Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Distance to nearest galaxy measured

07.03.2013
A team of astronomers including Carnegie's Ian Thompson have managed to improve the measurement of the distance to our nearest neighbor galaxy and, in the process, refine an astronomical calculation that helps measure the expansion of the universe. Their work is published March 7 by Nature.

The Hubble constant is a fundamental quantity that measures the current rate at which our universe is expanding. It is named after 20th Century Carnegie astronomer Edwin P. Hubble, who astonished the world by discovering that our universe has been growing continuously since its inception.

Determining the Hubble constant (a direct measurement of the rate of this continuing expansion) is critical for gauging the age and size of our universe. One of the largest uncertainties plaguing past measurements of the Hubble constant has involved the distance to the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), our nearest neighboring galaxy, which orbits our own Milky Way.

Astronomers survey the scale of the Universe by first measuring the distances to close-by objects (for example Cepheid variable stars studied by Wendy Freedman, director of the Carnegie Observatories, and her collaborators) and then using observations of these objects in more distant galaxies to pin down distances further and further out in the Universe. But this chain is only as accurate as its weakest link. Up to now finding a precise distance to the LMC has proved elusive. Because stars in this galaxy are used to fix the distance scale for more remote galaxies, an accurate distance is crucially important.

"Because the LMC is close and contains a significant number of different stellar distance indicators, hundreds of distance measurements using it have been recorded over the years," Thompson said. "Unfortunately, nearly all the determinations have systemic errors, with each method carrying its own uncertainties."

The international collaboration worked out the distance to the Large Magellanic Cloud by observing rare close pairs of stars, known as eclipsing binaries. These pairs are gravitationally bound to each other, and once per orbit, as seen from Earth, the total brightness from the system drops as each component eclipses its companion. By tracking these changes in brightness very carefully, and also measuring the orbital speeds of the stars, it is possible to work out how big the stars are, how massive they are, and other information about their orbits. When this is combined with careful measurements of the apparent brightness, remarkably accurate distances can be determined.

This method has been used before in taking measurements to the LMC, but with hot stars. As such, certain assumptions had to be made and the distances were not as accurate as desired. This new work, led by Grzegorz Pietrzynski of the Universidad de Concepcion in Chile and Warsaw University Observatory in Poland, used 16-years-worth of observations to identify a sample of intermediate mass binary stars with extremely long orbital periods, perfect for measuring precise and accurate distances.

The team observed eight of these binary systems over eight years, gathering data at Las Campanas Observatory and the European Southern Observatory. The LMC distance calculated using these eight binary stars is purely empirical, without relying on modeling or theoretical predictions. The team refined the uncertainty in the distance to the LMC down to 2.2 percent. This new measurement can be used to decrease the uncertainty in calculations of the Hubble constant to 3 percent, with prospects of improving this to a 2 percent uncertainty in a few years as the sample of binary stars is increased.

This work was supported by BASAL Centro de Astrofisica y Tecnologias Afines (CATA), the Polish Ministry of Science, the Foundation for Polish Science (FOCUS, TEAM), the Polish National Science Centre, and the GEMINI-CONICYT fund. The OGLE project has received funding from the European Research Council "Advanced Grant" program.

The Carnegie Institution for Science is a private, nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., with six research departments throughout the U.S. Since its founding in 1902, the Carnegie Institution has been a pioneering force in basic scientific research. Carnegie scientists are leaders in plant biology, developmental biology, astronomy, materials science, global ecology, and Earth and planetary science.

Ian Thompson | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.carnegiescience.edu

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht New NASA study improves search for habitable worlds
20.10.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht Physics boosts artificial intelligence methods
19.10.2017 | California Institute of Technology

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Neutron star merger directly observed for the first time

University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event

On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...

Im Focus: Breaking: the first light from two neutron stars merging

Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.

Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....

Im Focus: Smart sensors for efficient processes

Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).

When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...

Im Focus: Cold molecules on collision course

Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.

How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...

Im Focus: Shrinking the proton again!

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.

It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ASEAN Member States discuss the future role of renewable energy

17.10.2017 | Event News

World Health Summit 2017: International experts set the course for the future of Global Health

10.10.2017 | Event News

Climate Engineering Conference 2017 Opens in Berlin

10.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Terahertz spectroscopy goes nano

20.10.2017 | Information Technology

Strange but true: Turning a material upside down can sometimes make it softer

20.10.2017 | Materials Sciences

NRL clarifies valley polarization for electronic and optoelectronic technologies

20.10.2017 | Interdisciplinary Research

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>