Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Nearby Solar System May Have Earth-like Planet

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has revealed a second asteroid belt in the planetary system surrounding the nearby star Epsilon Eridani. Asteroid belts are residue from the collisions and coalescence that form planets. A second, more interior asteroid belt in this system suggests the possibility of a rocky planet like Earth in Epsilon Eridani's inner orbits. Dana Backman, astronomer at the SETI Institute and lead author of the upcoming research paper says, "This system probably looks a lot like ours did when life first took root on Earth.... The main difference we know of so far is that it has an additional ring of leftover planet construction material."

Epsilon Eridani has long been the subject of scientific and popular fascination (it's featured in Asimov and Star Trek). The star is pretty close to us (10 light years away) and is similar to our sun, but younger and smaller. Attributable to its youth, Epsilon Eridani demonstrates more magnetic activity and increased stellar winds relative to our sun. It's difficult to know how this might affect the sun's ego.

(image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)