Letters to Nature

Nature 427, 326-328 (22 January 2004) | doi:10.1038/nature02296; Received 29 September 2003; Accepted 11 December 2003

A distance of 133–137 parsecs to the Pleiades star cluster

Xiaopei Pan1, M. Shao1 & S. R. Kulkarni2

  1. Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, 4800 Oak Grove Drive, Pasadena, California 91109, USA
  2. Caltech Optical Observatories 105-24, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California 91125, USA

Correspondence to: S. R. Kulkarni2 Email: srk@anju.caltech.edu

Nearby 'open' clusters of stars (those that are not gravitationally bound) have played a crucial role in the development of stellar astronomy because, as a consequence of the stars having a common age, they provide excellent natural laboratories to test theoretical stellar models. Clusters also play a fundamental part in determining distance scales. The satellite Hipparcos1 surprisingly found that an extensively studied open cluster—the Pleiades (also known as the Seven Sisters)—had a distance of D = 118 plusminus 4 pc (refs 2, 3), about ten per cent smaller than the accepted value4, 5, 6. The discrepancy generated a spirited debate because the implication7 was that either current stellar models were incorrect by a surprising amount or Hipparcos was giving incorrect distances. Here we report the orbital parameters of the bright double star Atlas in the Pleiades, using long-baseline optical/infrared interferometry. From the data we derive a firm lower bound of D > 127 pc, with the most likely range being 133 < D < 137 pc. Our result reaffirms the fidelity of current stellar models.

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