Red giant stars as standard candles
This thesis introduces two new extragalactic distance determination
methods; the first uses the median magnitude of carbon-rich asymptotic
giant branch stars (CS), while the second uses the combined luminosity
function of the red-giant branch (RGB) and oxygen-rich asymptotic giant
branch stars (AGB). The sample of CS and RGB+AGB stars are selected from
near-infrared JHK_s-bands colour-magnitude diagrams (CMD), as in these
filters RGs are bright and easy to identify. Both methods use the
Magellanic Clouds as the fundamental calibrators and are tested in four
Magellanic type galaxies: NGC 6822, IC 1613, WLM and NGC 3109, these
target galaxies are all members of the Local Group.
For the CS method, the CS J-band luminosity function is fitted using a
Lorentzian distribution modified to allow the distribution to be
asymmetric. The parameters of the best-fit distribution are then used to
determine if the CS luminosity function of a given galaxy resembles that
of the Large or Small Magellanic Clouds (LMC or SMC). Based on this
resemblance, either the LMC or SMC is used as the calibrator and the
distance to the given galaxy is estimated using the median J magnitude
of the CS samples.
The second method uses an un-binned maximum likelihood estimator to find
the distance modulus that minimizes the difference between the
luminosity function of the RGB+AGB stars in a target galaxy and the
model distribution given by the luminosity function of the RGB+AGB stars
in the LMC and SMC. The model luminosity function can be given by the
LMC and SMC individually or as a linear combination (LC) of both. The LC
includes a "shape" parameters that quantifies how "LMC-" or "SMC-like" a
target galaxy is. Except for the NGC 3109 K_s luminosity function, the
LC "shape" results agree with the CS "LMC/SMC-like" classification.
Estimations of the distances through the tip of the RGB method are also
included to test the performance and compare the results when the three
different methods are applied to the same data set. The distance
estimates for the target galaxies from the three different methods
presented in this thesis are in good agreement within the error bars.