In orbit around the planet Earth, NASA has a friend named SOFIA or the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy. Now, it looks like she found another planetary system that has striking similarities to our own. Those analogies may help scientists learn more about the Solar System and build better models of how star systems form.
New Planetary System, Model of a Younger Sun?
The star was discovered in the constellation Eridanus in the southern sky. It has been named Epsilon Eridani, or Eri for short. This star itself is similar to our own sun in size, but it is only about one-fifth of its age. However, that is still old enough for planetary bodies to begin to form.
One of them is definitely a gas giant very much like Jupiter, orbiting at almost the same distance. Inward from that planet, SOFIA detected an asteroid belt like ours. It also found an outer debris field like our Kuiper Belt.
In a younger planetary system, the mass gathers around the star in an accretion disk. As those systems age and planets form, they spin around their sun, gathering material. This creates open spaces recognizable as belts rather than flat disks.
This model is what scientists believe is going on in Epsilon Eridani, which is a mere 10.5 light years away. They consider this increases the odds of rocky planets in the interior of the system. SOFIA is not sensitive enough to pull in this data, but her successor may well be.
In October of 2018, NASA is planning to launch the James Webb Space Telescope. This has a newer and more advanced technology on board. There is hope that it will be able to take a closer look at the system and determine if this projected model holds true. Those rocky, interior planets are those most likely to hold alien life, and that is the Holy Grail of astronomy.
A paper with the currently established details was recently published in The Astronomical Journal.
Image Source: Wikimedia