View Full Version : The age of the univese measured by the distance of stars.

David M
01-29-2014, 08:57 PM
It seems to me that after a certain point, the calculation of the distance of stars becomes highly theoretical and cannot be substantiated by direct measurement. Here is an article I found when looking for information about the limitation to measure accurately the distance of stars from our own solar system. There comes a point using direct optics and using the parallax method to calculate the distance of stars that a limit is reached. The reliable limit to measuring the distance of stars using the parallax method equates to only a "few thousand light years". After that, all sorts of assumptions have to be made in order to make measurements based on comparison. Maybe the universe is not as large as we are told it is by the establishment.

If the distance of stars in the main is measured to a few (less than seven?) thousand light years, that means the age of those stars could be a few thousand years also. The light from a star 5,000 light years away, has only been travelling for 5 years and it has not been travelling for millions of years. If we cannot measure the distance of stars directly to confirm the universe is millions of years old, then the same degree of error that is between "thousands" and "millions" could easily apply to the dating of the age of the earth. After the limit of direct measurement is reached, become all manner of assumptions are made. Why should we base truth on assumptions. The earth is not likely to be older than the stars measured in terms of distance and time and limited to "thousands of years". Even though the number of stars is estimated in the millions/billions using different types of telescopes, the same problems arise is measuring the distance of those stars. Measuring the size of very distant stars is likely to be fraught with the same errors. Calculating a stars distance using comparison methods, is making assumptions, which cannot be substantiated. Why should we think stars at a greater distance than can be measured directly are any older than those stars we can measure directly?

Here is the article and link to the website.


The Question
(Submitted April 15, 1997)

How do astronomers know for sure that stars are really as far away as they state?

The Answer
Thank you for writing the "Ask an Astrophysicist" service with your question. The methods astronomers use to measure distances to the stars is a piece of fundamental and active work in astronomy with important implications for how we understand the Universe around us.

Measuring the distances to stars is kind of like a house of cards: we use one method to get nearby stars, use a new method for further away stars which depends on our first measurements of nearby stars, then yet another method at further distances, and so on.

The first method astronomers use to measure distances to stars is called parallax. If you hold your finger in front of your face and close one eye and look with the other, then switch eyes, you'll see your finger seem to "shift " with respect to more distant objects behind it. The effect is called parallax.

Astronomers can measure parallax by measuring the position of a nearby star very carefully with respect to more distant stars behind it, then measuring those distances again six months later when the Earth is on the opposite side of its orbit. The shift is tiny... less than an arcsecond even for the nearest star (an arcsecond is 1/60 of an arcminute, which is 1/60 of a degree). In fact, I have heard (but only heard it once and never been able to find a reference to verify it, so label this as "interesting hearsay not necessarily to be believed ") that some of the early Greek astronomers specifically looked for parallax from the stars to work out whether the Earth orbited around the Sun. But their instruments could not measure the very small parallaxes nearby stars exhibit. Since they thought nearby stars were much closer than we now know, the fact they observed no parallax implied that the Earth did not orbit the Sun. Whether this is true or not, it was not until telescopes were invented that astronomers could measure parallaxes at all accurately.

Astronomers have been carefully measuring parallaxes for stars for centuries, and with remarkable precision. But it is painstakingly slow work with only a few thousand stars having well measured parallaxes. In 1989, the European Space Agency (ESA) launched a satellite called Hipparcos to accurately measure the parallax of some 120,000 stars (plus about another million or so stars with good, but lower precision). Hipparcos measurements increased the number of stars for which parallaxes are measured by a vast amount. Visit the Hipparcos web page for more details:


Parallaxes give us distances to stars up to perhaps a few thousand light years. Beyond that distance, parallaxes are so small than they cannot be measured with contemporary instruments. So astronomers use some more indirect methods beyond a few thousand light years. Rather than describe them in detail, let me point you to a good reference: George Abell's "Exploration of the Universe ". Your local library probably has a copy... and if it does not, almost any good astronomy textbook will also include this information.

The methods beyond a few thousand light years include:

Stellar motions: All stars are in motion, but only for nearby stars are these motions perceivable. Statistically, therefore, the stars that have larger motions are nearer. By measuring the motions of a large number of stars, we can estimate their average distance from their average motion.

Moving clusters: Clusters of stars travel together, such as the Pleiades or Hyades star clusters. Analyzing the apparent motion of the cluster can give us the distance to it.

Inverse-square law: The apparent brightness of a star depends both on its intrinsic brightness (its luminosity, or how bright it really is) and its distance from us. If we know the luminosity of a star (for instance, we have a measured parallax for one star of the same type and know that others of the same type will have similar luminosities), we can measure its apparent brightness (also called its apparent magnitude) and work out the distance using the inverse-square law. There are several variations on this, many of which are used to measure distances to stars in other galaxies.

Interstellar lines: The space between stars is not empty, but contains a sparse distribution of gas. Some times this leaves absorption lines in the spectrum we observe from stars beyond the interstellar gas. The further a star is, the more absorption will be observed since the light has passed through more of the interstellar medium.

Period-luminosity relation: Some stars are regular pulsators. The physics of their pulsations is such that the period of one oscillation is related to the luminosity of the star. If we measure the period of such a star, we calculate its luminosity. From this, and its apparent magnitude, we can calculate the distance. See:


Jesse Allen and Padi Boyd
for "Ask an Astrophysicist "

You might think the Hipparcos satellite that measured the parallax of many more thousands of stars might have lead to greater accuracy or longer periods of time. From the following question and answer I found when following the link in the article above, this does not seem to be the case.

Q. How far away (PC or LY) was, or what was the smallest parallax for, the most distant star measured by the Hipparcos satellite? I have seen varying numbers - one ESA publication stated that it was 1000 LY while I've seen various astronomy professors say it was on the order of 3000 LY. For whatever maximum distance is correct, can I assume that Hipparcos pretty much mapped all the stars within that distance from the Earth - i.e., the # in the Hipparcos catalog plus the # in the Tycho catalog? I suppose if I knew how to search the Hipparcos and Tycho catalogs, I could determine this answer, but I thought I'd ask anyway.

A. Let's talk in terms of angles (a parallax of 1 milliarcsec means a distance of 1000 pc). You will find very small values of the parallax in the catalogue, e.g. 0.1 milliarcsec which formally would mean a distance of 10,000 pc. There are even negative parallaxes, which physically means nothing. The important point is also the accuracy of these estimates. If we measure 0.1 milliarcsec, and the accuracy is 1 milliarcsec, it doesn't mean that we have really determined a distance of 10,000 pc. So there is not really a simply answer to your question "what is the max distance measured"... it depends on the accuracy you are happy to accept. Many workers say that only want to work with distances accurate to say 10%. For a typical measurement accuracy of 1 milliarcsec, this will mean stars with parallaxes greater than 10 milliarcsec, i.e. stars within just 100 pc of the Sun. If you're happy with distance accuracies of 20%, our measurements extend out to around 200 pc. But not every star out to these distances was measured by Hipparcos, so the catalogue is certainly not complete to these distances.

The problem science has in calculating dates is shown by considering the example of Adam and Eve. When only one day old, Adam and Eve had the appearance of an adult of say 20 or 30 years of age. Similarly, consider the trees in the Garden. Those trees were created only days before, yet had the appearance of a tree that would have taken years to grow from seed. Given that God can make one atom, it is not any more difficult to make 1040 atoms and can manipulate atoms as must have happened when we consider the simplest of miracles. It is easy to see how science can easily be fooled. I appreciate that when science is trying to prove that all that is observed came about by chance, then any explanation has to be without God in it. Therefore, science has to find answers that puts everything on a linear time-line. The fact that God can create something fully formed destroys the notion of a linear time-line.