Thursday, December 29, 2005

Milky Way's Neighboring Spiral Arm is Closer Than Thought

SpaceRef - Your Space Reference

"The Perseus spiral arm - the nearest spiral arm in the Milky Way outside the Sun's orbit - lies only half as far from Earth as some previous studies had suggested. An international team of astronomers measured a highly accurate distance to the Perseus arm for the first time using a globe-spanning system of radio dishes known as the Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA), which offers the sharpest vision of any telescope in existence. Additional VLBA measurements will help astronomers to determine the true structure of the Milky Way."

"Obtaining accurate distances in astronomy is a difficult challenge. The most reliable method for measuring astronomical distances is called trigonometric parallax, a technique similar to the triangulation used by land surveyors. A trigonometric parallax is determined by observing the change in position of a star relative to a very distant, essentially fixed object like a quasar, as the Earth moves in its orbit around the Sun. Just as a finger held at arm's length appears to shift against the far wall when viewed with one eye or the other, a nearby object will appear to shift position relative to a more distant one. Mathematical calculations then yield the distance to the closer object. The parallax method is powerful but requires exceptional accuracy."