Planetary nebulae as standard candles. XII. Connecting the population I and population II distance scales

Robin Ciardullo, John J. Feldmeier, George H. Jacoby, Rachel Kuzio De Naray, Mary Beth Laychak, Patrick R. Durrell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

188 Scopus citations


We report the results of [O III] λ5007 surveys for planetary nebulae (PNe) in six galaxies: NGC 2403, NGC 3115, NGC 3351, NGC 3627, NGC 4258, and NGC 5866. Using on-band/off-band [O III] λ5007 images, as well as images taken in Hα, we identify samples of PNe in these galaxies and derive their distances using the planetary nebula luminosity function (PNLF). We then combine these measurements with previous data to compare the PNLF, Cepheid, and surface brightness fluctuation (SBF) distance scales. We use a sample of 13 galaxies to show that the absolute magnitude of the PNLF cutoff is fainter in small, low-metallicity systems, but the trend is well modeled by the theoretical relation of Dopita, Jacoby, & Vassiliadis. When this metallicity dependence is removed, the scatter between the Cepheid and PNLF distances becomes consistent with the internal errors of the methods and independent of any obvious galaxy parameter. We then use these data to recalibrate the zero point of the PNLF distance scale. We use a sample of 28 galaxies to show that the scatter between the PNLF and SBF distance measurements agrees with that predicted from the techniques' internal errors and that there is no systematic trend between the distance residuals and stellar population. However, we also find that the PNLF and SBF methods have a significant scale offset: Cepheid-calibrated PNLF distances are, on average, ∼0.3 mag smaller than Cepheid-calibrated SBF distances. We discuss the possible causes of this offset and suggest that internal extinction in the bulges of the SBF calibration galaxies is the principal cause of the discrepancy. If this hypothesis is correct, then the SBF-based Hubble constant must be increased by ∼7%. We also use our distance to NGC 4258 to argue that the short distance scale to the LMC is correct and that the global Hubble constant inferred from the Hubble Space Telescope Key Project should be increased by 8% ± 3% to H0 = 78 ± 7 km s-1 Mpc-1.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)31-50
Number of pages20
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1 I
StatePublished - Sep 20 2002

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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