NASA's flying obervatory 'SOFIA' reveals nearby planetary system is remarkably similar to our own

NASA's SOFIA, the world's largest airborne astronomical observatory, recently completed a detailed study of this nearby planetary system.

By Zee Media Bureau | Updated: May 03, 2017, 09:44 AM IST
NASA's flying obervatory 'SOFIA' reveals nearby planetary system is remarkably similar to our own
Image Credits: NASA/SOFIA/Lynette Cook

New Delhi: The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, studying a nearby planetary system has confirmed that it has an architecture remarkably similar to that of our solar system.

NASA's SOFIA, the world's largest airborne astronomical observatory, recently completed a detailed study of this nearby planetary system.

Located 10.5 light-years away in the southern hemisphere of the constellation Eridanus, the star Epsilon Eridani, eps Eri for short, is the closest planetary system around a star similar to the early sun.

It is a prime location to research how planets form around stars like our sun, and is also the storied location of the Babylon 5 space station in the science fictional television series of the same name, a a NASA release published on its official website.

Previous studies indicate that eps Eri has a debris disk - that can be broad, continuous disks or concentrated into belts of debris, similar to our solar system’s asteroid belt and the Kuiper Belt.

Debris disk is the name astronomers give to leftover material still orbiting a star after planetary construction has completed. The debris can take the form of gas and dust, as well as small rocky and icy bodies.

Furthermore, careful measurements of the motion of eps Eri indicates that a planet with nearly the same mass as Jupiter circles the star at a distance comparable to Jupiter’s distance from the Sun, according to the report.

Using new SOFIA images, Kate Su of the University of Arizona and her research team were able to distinguish between two theoretical models of the location of warm debris, such as dust and gas, in the eps Eri system. These models were based on prior data obtained with NASA’s Spitzer space telescope.

“One model indicates that warm material is in two narrow rings of debris, which would correspond respectively to the positions of the asteroid belt and the orbit of Uranus in our solar system. Using this model, theorists indicate that the largest planet in a planetary system might normally be associated with an adjacent debris belt, the report added.”

“The other model attributes the warm material to dust originating in the outer Kuiper-Belt-like zone and filling in a disk of debris toward the central star. In this model, the warm material is in a broad disk, and is not concentrated into asteroid belt-like rings nor is it associated with any planets in the inner region.”

Su and her team ascertained that the warm material around eps Eri is in fact arranged like the first model suggests; it is in at least one narrow belt rather than in a broad continuous disk.

This study was published in the Astronomical Journal on April 25, 2017.