News FocusAstronomy

The First Step to Heaven

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Science  10 Sep 1999:
Vol. 285, Issue 5434, pp. 1658-1661
DOI: 10.1126/science.285.5434.1658

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Every effort to survey cosmic distances relies on a common yardstick, found in our own neighborhood, namely the distance to the Large Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf galaxy hovering on the outskirts of the Milky Way. But astronomers can't agree on how far away it is, and because cosmic distances are critical to calculating the age and expansion rate of the entire universe, that uncertainty has enormous consequences. At least 10 different indicators have been applied to the problem, and the results are all over the map.