Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Light Echoes Whisper The Distance To A Star

Date:
February 14, 2008
Source:
ESO
Summary:
Taking advantage of the presence of light echoes, a team of astronomers have used an ESO telescope to measure, at the 1 percent precision level, the distance of a Cepheid -- a class of variable stars that constitutes one of the first steps in the cosmic distance ladder.

Cepheids of M100.
Credit: NASA, HST, W. Freedman (CIW), R. Kennicutt (U. Arizona), J. Mould (ANU)

Taking advantage of the presence of light echoes, a team of astronomers have used an ESO telescope to measure, at the 1% precision level, the distance of a Cepheid - a class of variable stars that constitutes one of the first steps in the cosmic distance ladder.

Related Articles


"Our measurements with ESO's New Technology Telescope at La Silla allow us to obtain the most accurate distance to a Cepheid," says Pierre Kervella, lead-author of the paper reporting the result.

Cepheids are pulsating stars that have been used as distance indicators since almost a hundred years. The new accurate measurement is important as, contrary to many others, it is purely geometrical and does not rely on hypotheses about the physics at play in the stars themselves.

Cepheids are rare and very luminous pulsating stars whose luminosity varies in a very regular way. They are named after the star Delta Cephei in the constellation of Cepheus, the first known variable star of this particular type and bright enough to be easily seen with the unaided eye. Almost a century ago, in 1912, American astronomer Henrietta Leavitt published a relation between the intrinsic brightness and the pulsation period of Cepheids, the longer periods corresponding to the brighter stars. This relation still plays today a central role in the extragalactic distance scale.

The team of astronomers studied RS Pup, a bright Cepheid star located towards the constellation of Puppis ('the Stern') and easily visible with binoculars. RS Pup varies in brightness by almost a factor of five every 41.4 days. It is 10 times more massive than the Sun, 200 times larger, and on average 15 000 times more luminous.

RS Pup is the only Cepheid to be embedded in a large nebula,* which is made of very fine dust that reflects some of the light emitted by the star.

Because the luminosity of the star changes in a very distinctive pattern, the presence of the nebula allows the astronomers to see light echoes and use them to measure the distance of the star.

"The light that travelled from the star to a dust grain and then to the telescope arrives a bit later than the light that comes directly from the star to the telescope," explains Kervella. "As a consequence, if we measure the brightness of a particular, isolated dust blob in the nebula, we will obtain a brightness curve that has the same shape as the variation of the Cepheid, but shifted in time."

This delay is called a 'light echo', by analogy with the more traditional echo, the reflection of sound by, for example, the bottom of a well.

By monitoring the evolution of the brightness of the blobs in the nebula, the astronomers can derive their distance from the star: it is simply the measured delay in time, multiplied by the velocity of light (300 000 km/s). Knowing this distance and the apparent separation on the sky between the star and the blob, one can compute the distance of RS Pup.

From the observations of the echoes on several nebular features, the distance of RS Pup was found to be 6500 light years, plus or minus 90 light years.

"Knowing the distance to a Cepheid star with such an accuracy proves crucial to the calibration of the period-luminosity relation of this class of stars," says Kervella. "This relation is indeed at the basis of the distance determination of galaxies using Cepheids."

RS Pup is thus distant by about a quarter of the distance between the Sun and the Centre of the Milky Way. RS Pup is located within the Galactic plane, in a very populated region of our Galaxy.

Journal reference: "The long-period Galactic Cepheid RS Puppis - I. A geometric distance from its light echoes", P. Kervella et al. is in press in Astronomy and Astrophysics.

The team is composed of Pierre Kervella and Guy Perrin (LESIA, Observatoire de Paris, France), Antoine Mérand (Center for High Angular Resolution Astronomy, Atlanta, Georgia, USA), László Szabados (Konkoly Observatory, Budapest, Hungary), Pascal Fouqué (Observatoire Midi-Pyrénées, Toulouse, France), David Bersier (Liverpool John Moores University, UK), and Emanuela Pompei (ESO).

*The nebula around RS Pup was discovered in 1961 by Swedish astronomer Bengt Westerlund, who later became ESO Director in Chile (1970-74). Shortly after, in 1972, the American astronomer Robert Havlen, then visiting ESO Chile, published the first study of the nebula in the then rather young European journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by ESO. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

ESO. "Light Echoes Whisper The Distance To A Star." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 February 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080210183859.htm>.
ESO. (2008, February 14). Light Echoes Whisper The Distance To A Star. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 30, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080210183859.htm
ESO. "Light Echoes Whisper The Distance To A Star." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080210183859.htm (accessed January 30, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Space & Time News

Friday, January 30, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

NASA Holds Memorial to Remember Astronauts

NASA Holds Memorial to Remember Astronauts

AP (Jan. 29, 2015) — NASA is remembering 17 astronauts who were killed in the line of duty and dozens more who have died since the agency&apos;s beginning. A remembrance ceremony was held Thursday at NASA&apos;s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. (Jan. 29) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Asteroid's Moon Spotted During Earth Flyby

Asteroid's Moon Spotted During Earth Flyby

Rumble (Jan. 27, 2015) — Scientists working with NASA&apos;s Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California discovered an unexpected moon while observing asteroid 2004 BL86 during its recent flyby past Earth. Credit to &apos;NASA JPL&apos;. Video provided by Rumble
Powered by NewsLook.com
Water Fleas Prepare for Space Voyage

Water Fleas Prepare for Space Voyage

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Jan. 26, 2015) — Scientists are preparing a group of water fleas for a unique voyage into space. The aquatic crustaceans, known as Daphnia, can be used as a miniature model for biomedical research, and their reproductive and swimming behaviour will be tested for signs of stress while on board the International Space Station. Jim Drury went to meet the team. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Mars Rover Opportunity Celebrates 11-Year Anniversary

Mars Rover Opportunity Celebrates 11-Year Anniversary

Rumble (Jan. 26, 2015) — Eleven years ago NASA&apos;s Opportunity rover touched down on Mars for what was only supposed to be a 90-day mission. Since then it has traveled 25.9 miles (41.7 kilometers), further than any other off-Earth surface vehicle has ever driven. Credit to &apos;NASA&apos;. Video provided by Rumble
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins