Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

A geometric distance to the galaxy NGC4258 from orbital motions in a nuclear gas disk

Abstract

The accurate measurement of extragalactic distances is a central challenge of modern astronomy, being required for any realistic description of the age, geometry and fate of the Universe. The measurement of relative extragalactic distances has become fairly routine, but estimates of absolute distances are rare1. In the vicinity of the Sun, direct geometric techniques for obtaining absolute distances, such as orbital parallax, are feasible, but such techniques have hitherto been difficult to apply to other galaxies. As a result, uncertainties in the expansion rate and age of the Universe are dominated by uncertainties in the absolute calibration of the extragalactic distance ladder2. Here we report a geometric distance to the galaxy NGC4258, which we infer from the direct measurement of orbital motions in a disk of gas surrounding the nucleus of this galaxy. The distance so determined—7.2 ± 0.3 Mpc—is the most precise absolute extragalactic distance yet measured, and is likely to play an important role in future distance-scale calibrations.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: The NGC4258 water maser.
Figure 2: Line-of-sight (LOS) velocities (a) and right ascensions (b) at the peaks of the systemic maser spectrum.
Figure 3: Systemic maser bulk proper motion (〈θ̇ x〉; a) and acceleration (〈 LOS〉; b) probability density functions.

References

  1. 1

    Jacoby, G. H. et al. Acritical review of selected techniques for measuring extragalactic distances. Publ. Astron. Soc. Pacif. 104, 599–662 (1992).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Madore, B. F. et al. The Hubble Space Telescope key project on the extragalactic distance scale. XV. A Cepheid distance to the Fornax cluster and its implications. Astrophys. J. 515, 29–41 (1999).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Watson, W. D. & Wallin, B. K. Evidence from masers for a rapidly rotating disk at the nucleus of NGC4258. Astrophys. J. 432, L35–L38 (1994).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Miyoshi, M. et al. Evidence for a black hole from high rotation velocities in a sub-parsec region of NGC4258. Nature 373, 127–129 (1995).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Greenhill, L. G. et al. Detection of a subparsec diameter disk in the nucleus of NGC4258. Astrophys. J. 440, 619–627 (1995).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Herrnstein, J. R., Greenhill, L. J. & Moran, J. M. The warp in the subparsec molecular disk in NGC4258 as an explanation for persistent asymmetries in the maser spectrum. Astrophys. J. 468, L17–L20 (1996).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7

    Herrnstein, J. R. et al. Discovery of a subparsec jet 4000 Schwarzschild radii from the central engine of NGC4258. Astrophys. J. 475, L17–L21 (1997).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Herrnstein, J. R. Observations of the Sub-Parsec Maser Disk in NGC4258.Thesis, Harvard Univ.(1997).

    Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Aaronson, M. et al. Acatalog of infrared magnitudes and HI velocity widths for nearby galaxies. Astrophys. J. Suppl. 50, 241–262 (1982).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    Richter, O.-G. & Huchtmeier, W. K. Is there a unique relation between absolute (blue) luminosity and total 21 cm linewidth of disk galaxies? Astron. Astrophys. 132, 253–264 (1984).

    ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. 11

    Rowan-Robinson, M. The Cosmological Distance Ladder (Freeman, New York, (1985).

    Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Eracleous, M., Livio, M., Halpern, J. P. & Storchi-Bergmann, T. Elliptical accretion disks in active galactic nuclei. Astrophys. J. 438, 610–622 (1995).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    Herrnstein, J. R. et al. VLBA continuum observations of NGC4258: Constraints on an advection-dominated accretion flow. Astrophys. J. 497, L69–L73 (1998).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14

    Nakai, N., Inoue, M., Miyaza, K., Miyoshi, M. & Hall, P. Search for extremely high velocity H2O maser emission in Seyfert galaxies. Publ. Astron. Soc. Jpn 47, 771–799 (1995).

    ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. 15

    Greenhill, L. J., Henkel, C., Becker, R., Wilson, T. L. & Wouterloot, J. G. A. Centripetal acceleration within the subparsec nuclear maser disk of NGC4258. Astron. Astrophys. 304, 21–33 (1995).

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  16. 16

    Bragg, A. E., Greenhill, L. J., Moran, J. M. & Henkel, C. Acceleration-derived positions of the high-velocity maser features in NGC4258. Bull. Am. Astron. Soc. 30, 1254 (1998).

    ADS  Google Scholar 

  17. 17

    Moran, J. M. et al. Probing active galactic nuclei with H2O megamasers. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 92, 11427–11433 (1995).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18

    Cecil, G., Wilson, A. S. & DePree, C. Hot shocked gas along the helical jets of NGC4258. Astrophys. J. 440, 181–190 (1995).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19

    Zensus, J. A., Diamond, P. J. & Napier, P. J. Very Long Baseline Interferometry and the VLBA (Astron. Soc. Pacific, San Francisco, (1995).

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to J. R. Herrnstein.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Herrnstein, J., Moran, J., Greenhill, L. et al. A geometric distance to the galaxy NGC4258 from orbital motions in a nuclear gas disk. Nature 400, 539–541 (1999). https://doi.org/10.1038/22972

Download citation

Further reading

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing