Our Solar System's Twin Was Discovered

By Vlad Tverdohleb , Aug 04, 2015 07:35 PM EDT

Scientists have discovered our solar system's twin in the constellation of Cetus (The Whale). The central star of the solar system is called HIP 11915. It is very similar to our Sun and it can actually be seen on a clear night sky only with binoculars. A planet similar in orbit and mass to Jupiter is orbiting this star.

Of all the 1,200-plus planetary systems found by astronomers so far, none has been similar to ours. But now, in a galaxy 200 light years away scientists have finally found our Solar System's twin, a solar system with an arrangement of planets like ours. Its star is almost identical to our Sun and it is orbited by a planet just like Jupiter. Preliminary data give hits that the system could also harbor small rocky planets in its inner orbits.

Astronomers are interested in studying such systems since their research could bring new knowledge on the formation of our own Solar System. This kind of research can also help scientists determine whether life exists elsewhere in the Universe. The discovery of our Solar System's twin was first announced in July and it will be published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics. Jorge Meléndez, from the University of Sao Paulo and the lead author of the study, declared that the quest for a "Solar System 2.0" and an "Earth 2.0" is among "the most exciting endeavors in astronomy."

Chis Tinney, the exoplanet researcher at the University of New South Wales, added that so far finding distant planets has proved difficult because planets are dim stars are incredibly bright. That makes seeing directly exo-planets impossible. In order to overcome this challenge, astronomers have developed several methods for detecting exoplanets indirectly.

The classic method used since 1989 is to detect a star's wobble produced by the tug of a planet in its orbit. Meléndez and his team used this method as well and they focused their wobble search on 60 stars similar to our Sun in terms of their composition, age and luminosity. The astronomers used a telescope based in Chile, in La Silla, trying to find whether any of these systems shared another common feature with our Solar System special: Jupiter.

Scientists consider Jupiter important to life's appearance and evolution on Earth, since the planet may have acted like protector to the little rocky planets closer to the Sun, shielding them against bombarding asteroids from the outer Solar System. Jupiter may also have played a "fundamental role to the stability of our Solar System," according to Melendez. Melendez and his team were successful in discovering a planet orbiting the Sun-like star at almost the same distance and with almost exactly the same mass as Jupiter.

Meanwhile, NASA made an announcement in late July about the discovery of a distant planet that might be similar to Earth. The planet is orbiting a star in a very different part of the sky to HIP 11915. It was discovered by NASA's Kepler telescope. The planet, dubbed Kepler 452b, is the first with a size near Earth's size, orbiting in a solar system similar to our own, orbiting within the habitable zone of a star.

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