Download Press release - ASTRONOMY GROUP – University of St Andrews

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Date of issue: tbc
Answer to problem is in the stars.
An astronomer at the University of St Andrews will use a powerful planet-hunting
telescope to find out the true size of the Universe.
Researcher Dr Alan Penny will use the brightness of half a dozen stars to refine estimates of
how big the Universe actually is. Dr Penny hopes to solve the problem using the ‘extreme
precision’ of NASA’s Kepler satellite launched into space last month.
Developed for the search for new planets, Kepler's main task is to look for planets by
monitoring the brightness of 100,000 stars. But Dr Penny, a member of a 200 strong
international team, will use the same data to study a much smaller sample of stars.
He explained, "While Kepler is doing its exciting planet-hunting, we will be using its extreme
precision to resolve a possible problem with our measurement of the size of the Universe.
"These variable stars known as 'Cepheid' form the base of a series of steps by which we
measure the distance to distant galaxies and, through them, we can measure the size of the
Since it is highly likely that scientists’ understanding of how these stars vary in brightness is
incomplete, Dr Penny will use the six stars as a basic yardstick to work out how much
previous estimates of the size of the Universe are wrong.
He explained, “These Cepheids stars which get brighter and fainter by some tens of percent
every ten to a hundred days are mostly understood. But recently it has become clear that
our theories of what happens in the outer layers of these stars which cause the variations in
brightness do not totally agree with what we see.
"The exquisite accuracy of Kepler in measuring star brightness, one hundred times better
than we can do from the ground, means we can get such good measurements that we
should be able to match theory with observation. Resolving the issue may only change
estimates of the size of the Universe by a small amount, but we won’t rest easy until the
problem is solved," concluded Dr Penny.
Dr Alan Penny is available for interview on email [email protected] or tel 07804
670 620.
More information on the Kepler mission is available at
Images of the Kepler space telescope are available via:
Issued by the Press Office, University of St Andrews
Contact Gayle Cook, Senior Press Officer on 01334 467227 / 462529, mobile 07900 050 103, or email
[email protected]
Ref: in the stars.doc
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