On January 28, 2015, a modified Boeing 747SP aircraft stripped of most of the amenities at the front gave a large U-turn on the Pacific west of Mexico. On board was NASA ‘s Stratospheric Infrared Astronomy Observatory (SOFIA) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), a 2.5 meter diameter telescope aimed at a nearby star.
Located 10.5 light-years away in the southern hemisphere of the constellation Eridanus, the star was Epsilon Eridani, which reminds us much of our Sun when it was young. It may sound like the location chosen for the gigantic space station Babylon 5 in the fiction series of the same name, but beyond the inventions of the writers, the system that governs has a great scientific interest, Which was believed until now. According to a team of US researchers, it is very similar to our Solar System in its beginnings, in times when it underwent a series of catastrophic events that could lead, for example, to the Earth receiving water from its oceans and the Moon Form its craters.
Earlier studies indicated that Epsilon Eridani has a debris disk, the surplus material that continues to orbit a star after the planetary construction is complete. The debris can take the form of gas and dust, or small rocky bodies and ices. In addition, careful measurements of the Epsilon Eridani movement suggested that a planet with almost the same mass as Jupiter surrounded the star at a distance comparable to that between Jupiter itself and the Sun.
The new and better images of Epsilon Eridani taken by SOFIA have come to throw light on some of the suspicions. Thanks to these data, researchers believe that the material of the system is distributed in two narrow rings of debris, which correspond respectively to the positions of the asteroid belt and the orbit of Uranus in our own system. Using this model, theorists indicate that the largest planet in a planetary system could normally be related to an adjacent debris belt. «Actually, it’s impressive how Epsilon Eridani, a much younger version of our solar system, was armed like ours,» says Kate Su, who is responsible for the study, which is published in the journal Astronomical Journal.
«This star houses a planetary system that is currently in the same catastrophic processes that occurred in the Solar System in its youth, at the time that the Moon gained most of its craters, the Earth acquired the water in its oceans , And favorable conditions for life were established on our planet, «explains Massimo Marengo, a scientist at Iowa State University who participated in the study. In their view, the findings are important because they confirm that Epsilon Eridani is a good model of the early days of our Solar System and can provide data on how it evolved.
Marengo points out that there is a gap between the inner and outer belts of the star, «most likely created by planets. We have not detected them yet, but I would be surprised if they are not there. Seeing them will require the use of state-of-the-art instrumentation, perhaps NASA’s 6.5-meter James Webb Space Telescope «, scheduled for launch in October 2018.» «The prize at the end of this road is to understand the real structure of Epsilon Eridani’s disk and its interactions with the probable cohort of planets that inhabit his system,» he says.
In fact, these observations were possible because SOFIA has a telescope with a diameter even larger than that of Spitzer space, 2.5 meters in comparison with 0.85 meters, which allowed the equipment to discern details that are three times smaller than Which could be seen before. In addition, SOFIA’s powerful mid-infrared camera called Forcast facilitated the study of the strongest infrared emission from hot material around the star, at wavelengths between 25-40 microns, which are undetectable by terrestrial observatories. In the words of Marengo, «SOFIA, for its unique ability to capture infrared light in dry stratospheric sky, is the closest we have to a time machine, revealing a view of the Earth’s ancient past by observing the present of A young star nearby. «