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NASA Finds Solar System Similar To Ours: Can The Discovery Help Better Understand The Evolution Of Milky Way?

4 May 2017, 10:12 pm EDT By Steve Bowman Tech Times
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NASA discovered a new planetary system, similar to that of Earth's, 10.5 light years away. The star of the newly-discovered solar system has been named Epsilon Eridani.  ( NASA | SOFIA | Lynette Cook )

NASA has discovered a new planetary system, which is just 10.5 light-years away and noted that it is "remarkably similar" to Earth's solar system. NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy or SOFIA finished studying the nearby solar system similar to our own, but the former is comparatively younger.

The star of the newly-discovered solar system has been named Epsilon Eridani or eps Eri and it is located in the Southern Hemisphere of the Eridanus constellation. This solar system is one-fifth the age of Earth's planetary system.

"This star hosts a planetary system currently undergoing the same cataclysmic processes that happened to the solar system in its youth," Massimo Marengo, one of the researchers of the study, wrote in the paper.

The Debris Disks Of Epsilon Eridani

Previous studies noted that a debris disk surrounded the eps Eri. In-depth research later confirmed that other than the debris disk, a planet that has the same mass as Jupiter revolves around eps Eri. This planet revolves at a distance almost equal to that of Jupiter's from the sun.

For the unfamiliar, debris disk is the leftover material that continues to revolve around a star even after planetary formation is complete. The debris can be found in the form of small icy or rocky bodies. It can also be in the form of gas and dust.

The disks can be broad with a continuous train of materials. They can also be concentrated into belts, similar to our solar system's Kuiper Belt. The Kuiper Belt is the space beyond Neptune where hundreds of icy rock fragments can be found.

Armed with the latest images from SOFIA, lead researcher Kate Su and her colleagues were able to differentiate between the locations of two hypothetical models of warm debris — composed of gas and dust — in the newly-discovered Epsilon Eridani solar system.

The Two Models Of The Debris Disk: Which One Is Correct?

The two theoretical models were created based on data previously obtained from NASA's Spitzer space telescope. The first theoretical model, which was established based on old images, indicated that the warm material was arranged in two narrow rings. This is similar to the positioning of the asteroid belt in our solar system and Uranus' orbit.

The second theoretical model suggests that the warm material originates in the Kuiper Belt-type zone in the eps ERI solar system and fills the debris disk toward the principal star. According to the model, the material is inside a broad disk and not like an asteroid belt-type ring. The second model also theorizes that the debris is not linked to any planets in the solar system's inner region.

With the help of images SOFIA captured, the astronomers confirmed that the material forming the debris disk of the Epsilon Eridani solar system was arranged as the first theoretical model depicted.

"We can now say with great confidence that there is a separation between the star's inner and outer belts," Marengo stated.

Marengo added that the latest findings are significant as the newly-discovered planetay system is a good model to gain an understanding of the early days of our solar system. The discovery may help astronomers understand how our Milky Way evolved.

SOFIA: Its Importance In the Discovery?

The discovery of the planetary system was credited to the SOFIA. When compared to Spitzer, the SOFIA telescope has a bigger diameter. This allowed the team to distinguish between images that are three times smaller than what could have been viewed with the Sptizer.

Moreover, SOFIA's powerful camera — the Faint Object infraRed CAmera or FORCAST — made it possible for the astronomers to observe the strongest IR emissions from the material revolving around the Epsilon Eridani.

The findings of the study have been published in the Astronomical Journal.

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