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Despite these difficulties, the tools we have been discussing allow us to measure a remarkable range of distances—parallaxes for the nearest stars, RR Lyrae variable stars; the H–R diagram for clusters of stars in our own and nearby galaxies; and cepheids out to distances of 60 million light-years. [link] describes the distance limits and overlap of each method.

Each technique described in this chapter builds on at least one other method, forming what many call the cosmic distance ladder . Parallaxes are the foundation of all stellar distance estimates, spectroscopic methods use nearby stars to calibrate their H–R diagrams, and RR Lyrae and cepheid distance estimates are grounded in H–R diagram distance estimates (and even in a parallax measurement to a nearby cepheid, Delta Cephei ).

This chain of methods allows astronomers to push the limits when looking for even more distant stars. Recent work, for example, has used RR Lyrae stars to identify dim companion galaxies to our own Milky Way out at distances of 300,000 light-years. The H–R diagram method was recently used to identify the two most distant stars in the Galaxy: red giant stars way out in the halo of the Milky Way with distances of almost 1 million light-years.

We can combine the distances we find for stars with measurements of their composition, luminosity, and temperature—made with the techniques described in Analyzing Starlight and The Stars: A Celestial Census . Together, these make up the arsenal of information we need to trace the evolution of stars from birth to death, the subject to which we turn in the chapters that follow.

Distance Range of Celestial Measurement Methods
Method Distance Range
Trigonometric parallax 4–30,000 light-years when the Gaia mission is complete
RR Lyrae stars Out to 300,000 light-years
H–R diagram and spectroscopic distances Out to 1,200,000 light-years
Cepheid stars Out to 60,000,000 light-years

Key concepts and summary

Stars with identical temperatures but different pressures (and diameters) have somewhat different spectra. Spectral classification can therefore be used to estimate the luminosity class of a star as well as its temperature. As a result, a spectrum can allow us to pinpoint where the star is located on an H–R diagram and establish its luminosity. This, with the star’s apparent brightness, again yields its distance. The various distance methods can be used to check one against another and thus make a kind of distance ladder which allows us to find even larger distances.

For further exploration

Articles

Adams, A. “The Triumph of Hipparcos.” Astronomy (December 1997): 60. Brief introduction.

Dambeck, T. “Gaia’s Mission to the Milky Way.” Sky&Telescope (March 2008): 36–39. An introduction to the mission to measure distances and positions of stars with unprecedented accuracy.

Hirshfeld, A. “The Absolute Magnitude of Stars.” Sky&Telescope (September 1994): 35. Good review of how we measure luminosity, with charts.

Hirshfeld, A. “The Race to Measure the Cosmos.” Sky&Telescope (November 2001): 38. On parallax.

Questions & Answers

In planet mars there the life exits or not and is there water there
Eshwarsa Reply
see till now nothing can be found as u know that the curiosity rover has struck in mars
Maya
what is your opinion about the theory of Vedas about modern physics..
Manish Reply
i think in some ways vedas are also correct but not everytime
Maya
I agree
sakshi
hmm even I agree
Samuel
Is there any patened theory about time relativitg in growth and development?
donot Reply
some astronomer's says that there is no alien exist but why search for extra terrestrial intelligence center is established
Eshwarsa Reply
No One Knows That For Absolute Fact, The Universe Is Too Huge To Have Any Type Of Idea About What Exist In The Far Reaches Of Our Universe.....
Adam
Check Out The Drake Equation.....
Adam
their should be aliens as like ours there would be another planet
Maya
which could have existed life on it
Maya
adam i want to ask a question
Maya
can kepler 1st law be applied on all the planets of the universe
Maya
hello, anyone home?
Denise
sjskskfhjkkktewqqw and try?
Lanika Reply
what is this ?
Samuel
hi I am Samuel from India mumbai
Samuel
nice to meet you
Samuel
thats my question, what is this?
penzias and wilson's a discovery of the cosmic microwave background is a nice example of scientific serendipity-something that is found by chance but turns out to have a positive outcome
Jacqueline Reply
how should I make my carrier in astronomy
Ayush Reply
I think that Newton's third law is not appropriate if any also thinks like this please reply me
Ayush
Can you explain your reasoning
Huh
why u think so
joseph
yes Ayush u are right
Yoganshu
I think when we apply force to a object it start moving but , a/c to Newton's third law every action has equal and opposite reaction,so object should also exert equal force on us and it should not move due to balanced force
Ayush
if I am not right then reply me
Ayush
no
Zack
because of friction that opposes that force and help us to move ahead
Manish
but this is not satisfied as third law say another thing
Ayush
you are telling why object moves
Ayush
you have to think a/c to third law
Ayush
its because of its mass
Maya
because it is applying equal and opposite force but also our mass is also less in comparison to the object
Maya
which is why we cant move the object but it can make move us
Maya
manish is too correct in his place because we need to apply force which would overcome the frictional force
Maya
My dear friends, can u plz tell me that among u guys who are in the field of cosmology
Madhav Reply
😢I am not there in cosmology
Samuel
Just A Science Fan.....
Adam
Adam even I am 😥😅😅😂😂
Samuel
I am also not in cosmology but I am just a fan or we can say science and part of NASA is my dream
Yoganshu
yoganshu Arya same here
Samuel
you are from which country
Yoganshu
hi yoganshu
Samuel
India
Samuel
which state
Samuel
I am also from India
Yoganshu
from delhi
Yoganshu
and u...?
Yoganshu
I am from Maharashtra
Samuel
from which state?
Yoganshu
You are a ASTRONOMER ...
Yoganshu
or a scientist..
Yoganshu
or just a member
Yoganshu
What is time...? not about Newton= time is constant..... that all scientists openions n point of view I m knowing. . what can be the Perfect Definition of Time
Madhav Reply
time is what clock reads
Ayush
Who is the best astronomer of India at present time
Gian Reply
Jayant Narlikar, Proponent Of Steady State Cosmology.....
Adam
What is the real colour of sun rays
Gian Reply
white.. so white it becomes violet.. so violet it become ultraviolet
Tom
white and red and yellow
Bianca
Vibgyor
Samuel
the real colour of sunlight is White
Madhav
the Sun's has a variety of waves all throughout the elextromagnetic spectrum.
Jacie
we only see it as a few bc of how some of them get redshifted (? can that term be applied for something so local?) by some particles in our upper atmosphere
Jacie
Vibgyor will be when, the white light will pass through the clouds ( prism ) then Refraction phenomenon leads us to 7 colours splitting from a single colour "White " light
Madhav
so the sun rays r of White colour
Madhav
Taurus in astronomy and horoscope?
Yasser Reply
how to put E=MC2
Gospel Reply
What Do You Mean By How To Put?
Adam
What Do You Mean By How To Put?
Adam
What Do You Mean By "How To Put E=MC2?
Adam
yep
Gospel
Hi guys
Samuel
i mean how NASA came to know the mass and diameters of Stars.how?
Gospel
how did they do using E=MC2
Gospel
thats my questioning
Gospel
that's easy formula's derivation
Madhav
why all planets revolving orbits are nearly in equal inclination?
Kartik Reply
***medium.com/starts-with-a-bang/ask-ethan-82-why-are-the-planets-all-in-the-same-plane-4470245c8743
rishabh
dependent on the mass
Madhav
no
Janak
I think because of the Suns gravity pull ,😕😕
Samuel
Samuel,. it's but obvious
Madhav
what hubbel's law. and examples on it.?
Kavyanjali Reply
Hubbel's Law is a Expanding Universe. The distant galaxies we see in all directions are moving away from the Earth, as evidenced by their red shifts. Hubble's law describes this expansion.
Роза
okk. sir/madam, i studied that all 3 laws.
Kavyanjali
i m solving examples on "p" square directly proportional to "a"cube
Kavyanjali

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Source:  OpenStax, Astronomy. OpenStax CNX. Apr 12, 2017 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11992/1.13
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