WASHINGTON — For the first time, astronomers think that they’ve found evidence of an alien solar system around a star close enough to Earth to be visible to the naked eye.
They say that at least one and probably three or more planets are orbiting the star Epsilon Eridani, 10.5 light-years — about 63 trillion miles — from Earth. Only eight stars are closer.
The host star, slightly smaller and cooler than our sun, is in the constellation Eridanus — the name of a mythological river — near Orion in the northern sky.
Epsilon Eridani is much younger than the sun, about 850 million years old compared with 4.5 billion years for our system.
“This really is a system like our solar system was when it was five times younger than it is now,” said one of the discoverers, Massimo Marengo , an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass. “It’s like a time machine for our solar system.”
“This system probably looks a lot like ours did when life first took root on Earth,” said Dana Backman , of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif. , the lead author of a report to be published Jan. 10 in The Astrophysical Journal .