Variable stars have a unique part to play in Galactic astronomy. Among the most important of these variables are the Cepheids (types I and II), the RR Lyraes and the Miras (O- and C-rich). The current status of the basic calibration of these stars in their roles as distance, structure and population indicators is outlined and some examples of recent applications of these stars to Galactic and extragalactic problems is reviewed. The expected impact of Gaia on this type of work is discussed and the need for complementary ground based observations, particularly large scale near-infrared photometry, is stressed.
Authors: Michael W. Feast, Patricia A. Whitelock
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