NASA discovers new planetary system ‘remarkably similar’ to our own


New investigation by astronomers has revealed a planetary system with an “architecture” that is strikingly like our solar system.

Where is this planetary system?

The star Epsilon Eridani, located just 10.5 light years away in the southern section of the constellation Eridanus, has been found to have a planetary system around it that is similar to our own system around the sun in its primitive years. The Epsilon Eridani, though similar to the sun, is just one-fifth its age.

The constellation is a prime location for studying the development of planetary systems around stars, and this discovery has sweeping implications for stellar evolution.

How was it discovered?

Images from a flying observatory system, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) were used by researchers at the University of Arizona to ascertain that structure of the debris disks surrounding Epsilon Eridani. It was found that the star is surrounded by two structures, an inner and an outer disk, with a gap that is likely created by planets (the gap, here, is a dispersion of warm debris).

“The high spatial resolution of SOFIA combined with the unique wavelength coverage and impressive dynamic range of the FORCAST camera allowed us to resolve the warm emission around Epsilon Eridani”, offers Kate Su, lead researcher from University of Arizona.

Why is this important?

Since the construction of this system is “remarkably similar” to our own, it offers several opportunities for research about evolution of the solar system and earth itself.

Massimo Marengo, one of the co-authors of the study, explains that “…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 favourable for life on our planet were set.”

“The prize at the end of this road is to understand the true structure of ε Eridani’s out-of-this-world disk, and its interactions with the cohort of planets likely inhabiting its system. 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”, Marengo says in his newsletter blog