Abstract

In the era of precision cosmology, it is essential to determine the Hubble constant to an accuracy of three per cent or better1,2. At present, its uncertainty is dominated by the uncertainty in the distance to the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), which, being our second-closest galaxy, serves as the best anchor point for the cosmic distance scale2,3. Observations of eclipsing binaries offer a unique opportunity to measure stellar parameters and distances precisely and accurately4,5. The eclipsing-binary method was previously applied to the LMC6,7, but the accuracy of the distance results was lessened by the need to model the bright, early-type systems used in those studies. Here we report determinations of the distances to eight long-period, late-type eclipsing systems in the LMC, composed of cool, giant stars. For these systems, we can accurately measure both the linear and the angular sizes of their components and avoid the most important problems related to the hot, early-type systems. The LMC distance that we derive from these systems (49.97 ± 0.19 (statistical) ± 1.11 (systematic) kiloparsecs) is accurate to 2.2 per cent and provides a firm base for a 3-per-cent determination of the Hubble constant, with prospects for improvement to 2 per cent in the future.

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Acknowledgements

We acknowledge financial support for this work from the BASAL Centro de Astrofísica y Tecnologias Afines (CATA), the Polish Ministry of Science, the Foundation for Polish Science (FOCUS, TEAM), the Polish National Science Centre and the GEMINI-CONICYT fund. The OGLE project has received funding from the European Research Council ‘Advanced Grant’ Program. We thank the staff astronomers at Las Campanas and ESO La Silla, who provided expert support in data acquisition. We thank J. F. Gonzalez for making the IRAF scripts rvbina and spbina available to us. We also thank O. Szewczyk and Z. Kołaczkowski for their help with some of the observations.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Universidad de Concepción, Departamento de Astronomía, Casilla 160-C, Concepción, Chile

    • G. Pietrzyński
    • , D. Graczyk
    • , W. Gieren
    • , B. Pilecki
    • , S. Villanova
    •  & A. Gallenne
  2. Warsaw University Observatory, Aleje Ujazdowskie 4, 00-478 Warszawa, Poland

    • G. Pietrzyński
    • , B. Pilecki
    • , A. Udalski
    • , I. Soszyński
    • , S. Kozłowski
    • , P. Konorski
    • , K. Suchomska
    • , M. Kubiak
    • , M. K. Szymański
    • , R. Poleski
    • , Ł. Wyrzykowski
    • , K. Ulaczyk
    • , P. Pietrukowicz
    • , M. Górski
    •  & P. Karczmarek
  3. Carnegie Observatories, 813 Santa Barbara Street, Pasadena, California 91101-1292, USA

    • I. B. Thompson
  4. Dipartimento di Fisica Università di Roma Tor Vergata, Via della Ricerca Scientifica 1, 00133 Rome, Italy

    • G. Bono
  5. INAF-Osservatorio Astronomico di Roma, Via Frascati 33, 00040 Monte Porzio Catone, Italy

    • G. Bono
  6. Dipartimento di Fisica Università di Pisa, Largo B. Pontecorvo 2, 56127 Pisa, Italy

    • P. G. Prada Moroni
  7. INFN, Sezione di Pisa, Via E. Fermi 2, 56127 Pisa, Italy

    • P. G. Prada Moroni
  8. Laboratoire Lagrange, UMR7293, UNS/CNRS/OCA, 06300 Nice, France

    • N. Nardetto
  9. Institute for Astronomy, 2680 Woodlawn Drive, Honolulu, Hawaii 96822, USA

    • F. Bresolin
    •  & R. P. Kudritzki
  10. Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics, An der Sternwarte 16, 14482 Postdam, Germany

    • J. Storm
  11. Nicolaus Copernicus Astronomical Centre, Bartycka 18, 00-716 Warszawa, Poland

    • R. Smolec
  12. Departamento de Astronomía y Astrofísica, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Vicuña Mackenna 4860, Casilla 306, Santiago 22, Chile

    • D. Minniti
  13. Vatican Observatory, V00120 Vatican City, Italy

    • D. Minniti
  14. Ohio State University, 140 West 18th Avenue, Columbus, Ohio 43210, USA

    • R. Poleski

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Contributions

G.P.: photometric and spectroscopic observations and reductions. D.G.: spectroscopic observations, modelling and data analysis. W.G.: observations and data analysis. I.B.T.: observations, RV determination, data analysis. B.P.: spectroscopic observations and reductions, RV measurements. A.U., I.S. and S. K.: optical observations and data reductions. P.K., K.S., M.K., M.K.S., R.P., Ł.W., K.U., P.P., M.G. and P.K.: observations. G.B., P.G.P.M., N.N., F.B., R.P.K., J.S., A.G. and R.S.: data analysis. S.V.: analysis of the spectra. G.P. and W.G. worked jointly to draft the manuscript with all authors reviewing and contributing to its final form

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to G. Pietrzyński.

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    Supplementary Information

    This file contains Text and Data 1-4, Supplementary Tables 1-13, Supplementary Figure 1 and additional references.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11878

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