NASA has discovered a planetary system that looks a lot like our own, just 10.5 light-years away.
New analysis reveals the Epsilon Eridani system features a star resembling a younger version of the sun, a Jupiter-sized planet in a Jupiter-like orbit and a disk of rock and dirt with a striking resemblance to our asteroid belt.
It’s the closest system around a star similar to the early sun and, as such, is a prime location for examining how planets form.
Previous research revealed that the system has a debris disk made up of material left over from planetary construction.
But astronomers hadn’t figured if it lay in a broad, continuous disk or in narrow belts such as our asteroid belt and the Kuiper belt, a region beyond Neptune containing hundreds of thousands of icy-rocky objects.
Now, a study of images captured by NASA’s flying observatory, SOFIA, suggests that the disk is likely to be arranged like the narrow belts seen in our solar system.
It’s thought that one of the rings is adjacent to the largest planet in the system, mimicking the asteroid belt and Jupiter, while a more distant belt sits next to a Neptune-like planet.
Kate Su of the University of Arizona led the research team behind the study. In a statement, Su said: “It really is impressive how eps Eri, a much younger version of our solar system, is put together like ours.”