Astronomers have discovered the presence of two rocky asteroid belts and an outer icy halo around Epsilon Eridani, a star located 10.5 light-years from Earth. The researchers say the separate rings of material around the star suggest unseen planets lurk there, they propose three planets with masses between those of Neptune and Jupiter could be in orbit around the star.
If there were in fact rocky planets within the inner gap between the star and asteroid belt, the worlds would likely reside within the star's habitable zone where temperatures would be such that life could survive.
Located 10.5 light-years from Earth in the constellation Eridanus, the star is the ninth closest to the sun. The sun's three nearest known stars are gravitationally bound in a system called Alpha Centauri that's located 4.36 light-years away. (A light-year is the distance light travels in one year, or about 6 trillion miles, or 10 trillion km.)
Epsilon Eridani is slightly smaller and cooler than the sun. And it's also younger. While the sun is an estimated 4.5 billion years old, Epsilon Eridani has been around for just 850 million years.
"Studying Epsilon Eridani is like having a time machine to look at our solar system when it was young," said researcher Massimo Marengo, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Massachusetts.