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cosmic distance ladder

(cosmological distance ladder)
(sequence of methods of measuring distance to astronomical objects)

The cosmic distance ladder (or cosmological distance ladder, or extragalactic distance scale) is a sequence of methods culminating in those used for measuring distance to distant objects such as the oldest galaxies. The more accurate methods, typically workable only for relatively short distances, are used to calibrate additional methods which handle longer distances, step-by-step, like climbing a ladder. The precision and accuracy of the methods generally decline with increasing distance, some methods being presumed no more accurate than 50%.

The shortest of the following methods are limited to the Milky Way, but are key "lower" steps in the ladder. To gain as much accuracy as possible, efforts are made to confirm distances and calibrations using multiple methods.


Among the standard candles:

A ladder of three steps is commonly used: parallax for nearer distances within the Milky Way, Cepheids, to relate those nearer distances to longer Milky Way distances and nearby galaxies, and either redshift or Type Ia supernovae to relate those distances to those of further galaxies. Other methods address particular circumstances, and provide means to confirm the commonly-used methods.

Since redshift-derived distance depends upon the Hubble constant, which is subject to improvement, cosmological distances are often cited divided by the Hubble parameter, assisting future readers in accounting for future improved Hubble constant determinations.

Further reading:

Referenced by pages:
Cepheid variable (CEP)
Hyades Cluster
intergalactic dust
Messier 106 (M106)
standard candle
standard ruler
standard siren
stellar distance determination
stellar kinematics