A solar system about 10.5 light-years away from Earth is “remarkably similar” to the one we live in, according to a new NASA study.
The young star Epsilon Eridani (Eps Eri) has a large Jupiter-like planet, an asteroid belt and a disk of debris similar to what scientists say our solar system looked like before Earth formed. The NASA findings indicate Earth-like planets may be much more common than scientists previously thought.
“It really is impressive how Eps Eri, a much younger version of our solar system, is put together like ours,” Dr. Kate Su, a NASA scientist at the University of Arizona who led the research team, said in a statement released Thursday.
Previous studies found the Eps Eri system had a debris disk, consisting of leftover material orbiting its star. The debris could be forming into small bodies similar to an early Earth. NASA measurements indicate a planet with nearly the same mass as Jupiter orbits the Eps Eri system’s sun at a comparable distance.
A Jupiter-like planet sitting in the right location is critical for the development of life, according to NASA. If the planet was too close to the sun, worlds where life could develop would be thrown out of whack. If the Jupiter-like planet is too far away, it wouldn’t be able to pull asteroids away from an Earth-like world.
These “celestial vacuum cleaner,” or planets with strong gravitational pulls, keep asteroids from colliding with planets closer to the sun. Earth’s early history could have seen more mass extinction events if Saturn and Jupiter weren’t in the right spots.
The study used NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) to examined Eps Eri. SOFIA is NASA’s flying observatory and mounts a 100-inch telescopes on a modified 747 jet.
The new discovery is only the most recent evidence that the stellar conditions necessary for life are more common than scientists previously believed.
NASA announced in May that its Kepler Space Telescope found 1,284 new exoplanets, or planets, outside our solar system. Roughly 550 of those exoplanets could be rocky planets like Earth based on their size. Nine of these exoplanets orbit in their stars’ “Goldilocks Zones.”
Some exoplanets closely resemble Earth and are a few of the best places to look for alien life. European astronomers identified a planet very similar to Earth in August, around the star Proxima Centauri.
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