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Nature. 2004 Jan 22;427(6972):326-8.

A distance of 133-137 parsecs to the Pleiades star cluster.

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Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, 4800 Oak Grove Drive, Pasadena, California 91109, USA.


Nearby 'open' clusters of stars (those that are not gravitationally bound) have played a crucial role in the development of stellar astronomy because, as a consequence of the stars having a common age, they provide excellent natural laboratories to test theoretical stellar models. Clusters also play a fundamental part in determining distance scales. The satellite Hipparcos surprisingly found that an extensively studied open cluster--the Pleiades (also known as the Seven Sisters)--had a distance of D = 118 +/- 4 pc (refs 2, 3), about ten per cent smaller than the accepted value. The discrepancy generated a spirited debate because the implication was that either current stellar models were incorrect by a surprising amount or Hipparcos was giving incorrect distances. Here we report the orbital parameters of the bright double star Atlas in the Pleiades, using long-baseline optical/infrared interferometry. From the data we derive a firm lower bound of D > 127 pc, with the most likely range being 133 < D < 137 pc. Our result reaffirms the fidelity of current stellar models.

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