A solar system near to us is “remarkably similar” to our own, according to astronomers.
The discovery could have huge implications for our understanding of how our own planet and its neighbours were formed.
Found just 10 light-years away in the constellation Eradinus, the scientists say that the solar system around the star Epsilon Eridani looks remarkably similar to the one around our own sun. And it's the closest that includes a star that's like a youthful version of our own.
Though Epsilon Eridani looks like our own star, it's just one-fifth the age. And so looking at it is like looking back in time.
“This star hosts a planetary system currently undergoing the same cataclysmic processes that happened to the solar system in its youth, at the time in which the moon gained most of its craters, Earth acquired the water in its oceans, and the conditions favorable for life on our planet were set,” wrote astronomer Massimo Marengo, one of the authors of the new paper, wrote in a summary of the project.
The new paper uses data collected by Nasa's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, which is housed in an aircraft and can take detailed pictures by aiming at distant stars. Astronomers then observed the mission and picked through infrared data about the star, which also featured in Babylon 5.
They found that the star is surrounded by two structures – an inner and outer disk – with a gap that seems to have been created by planets.
“But we can now say with great confidence that there is a separation between the star’s inner and outer belts,” Marengo said. “There is a gap most likely created by planets. We haven’t detected them yet, but I would be surprised if they are not there. Seeing them will require using the next-generation instrumentation, perhaps NASA’s 6.5-meter James Webb Space Telescope scheduled for launch in October 2018.”
All of that work could help give astronomers a look at the very ancient past of Earth and the planets that surround it.
“The prize at the end of this road is to understand the true structure of epsilon Eridani’s out-of-this-world disk, and its interactions with the cohort of planets likely inhabiting its system,” Marengo wrote in a newsletter story about the project. “SOFIA, by its unique ability of capturing infrared light in the dry stratospheric sky, is the closest we have to a time machine, revealing a glimpse of Earth’s ancient past by observing the present of a nearby young sun.”
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