Nasa's Sofia flying observatory confirms that a nearby star system is similar to the solar system

Nasa's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or Sofia has confirmed that a star system located 10.5 light years away is strikingly similar to our own solar system. The solar system is around the star known as Epsilon Eridani, or eps Eri for short. The star system is the closest system around with conditions similar to the very early days of our own solar system, and is a prime candidate for the study of planet formation.

The planets in our Solar System. Image: Nasa.

The planets in our Solar System. Image: Nasa.

Previous observations of the star system around eps Eri from the Spitzer space telescope raised the possibility of two theoretical models for the star system. One model was a broad debris disk made up of gas, dust, and small rocky and icy bodies. The other model was bands of narrow disks of debris, similar to our own solar system. There is a concentrated ring of debris known as the asteroid belt, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, and another belt beyond Pluto known as the Kuiper belt, which mostly has icy objects.

eps-eri-star-system

Image: Nasa

The observations from Sofia confirmed that the debris was arranged in two narrow bands, similar to our own solar system. Additionally, the telescope found that there was a planet comparable to the mass of Jupiter, in orbit around eps Eri at about the same distance as Jupiter is from our Sun. Incidentally, the star system is the location of the space station from Babylon 5, an American science fiction television series.

The Sofia observatory. Image: Nasa.

The Sofia observatory. Image: Nasa.

Sofia allowed for more detailed observations of the system because it was a larger telescope. Sofia has a diameter of 2.5 meters whereas Spitzer only measures 0.85 meters in diameter. Sofia is a telescope mounted on a Boeing 747SP. Sofia has previously detected oxygen in the Martian atmosphere, observed Jupiter up close, and studied the formation of young stars.


Published Date: May 03, 2017 10:13 am | Updated Date: May 03, 2017 10:13 am