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Space Science

Multiple Asteroid Belts Found Orbiting Nearby Star 135

Posted by Soulskill
from the no-word-on-asteroid-suspenders dept.
Kligat writes "Scientists have found two asteroid belts around the star Epsilon Eridani, the ninth closest star to our solar system. Epsilon Eridani also possesses an icy outer ring similar in composition to our Kuiper Belt, but with 100 times more material, and a Jovian mass planet near the edge of the innermost belt. Researchers believe that two other planets must orbit the 850 million year old star near the other two belts. Terrestrial planets are possible, but not yet indicated."
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Multiple Asteroid Belts Found Orbiting Nearby Star

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    It's one possible location for Star Trek's planet Vulcan!

    • Babylon 5 (Score:5, Interesting)

      by wideBlueSkies (618979) * on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @09:45PM (#25550069) Journal

      While talking about Sci-Fi, it might be worth noting that this system is the home of Babylon 5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epsilon_III [wikipedia.org]

      • Sci-Fi seems to have limited originality. It's also Vulcan's system.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vulcan_(Star_Trek_planet) [wikipedia.org]

        • by ceoyoyo (59147)

          Vulcan's system is 40 Eridani (which is actually a triple system, including the first discovered white dwarf). This star is Epsilon Eridani. Not the same.

          • Interesting. I posted this from memory, based on the James Blish novelization of "Amok Time" that I read in the mid-70's. In the novelization he/she explicitly said Epsilon Eridani. I suppose the canon has moved on since then.

            • I am also quite confident that I've read a Star Trek novel that explicitly identified Vulcan as a planet of Epsilon Eridani. I recall the prologue or opening chapters of the novel referred to Earth as "Sol III" and Vulcan as "Eri (something)" for short, but it definitely mentioned Epsilon Eridani as the star.
            • by ceoyoyo (59147)

              Apparently there was some debate about it, but an episode of Enterprise finished it off when it explicitly gave the distance from Earth to Vulcan as 16 light years.

              To me, neither one works very well. In TOS there are lots of references to Vulcan's big, hot, white sun. Vulcans have extra eyelids because of it, etc. I suppose a planet in close orbit of 40 Eridani's white dwarf companion could work, but the descriptions sound more like a star like Sirius.

      • Obligatory: (Score:1, Offtopic)

        by Fluffeh (1273756)
        ... that's not a moon!!
  • by Flounder (42112) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @08:03PM (#25549289)
    Looks like the builders of The Great Machine inside Epsilon 3 are just dumping their debris in orbit.
  • heresy! (Score:5, Funny)

    by circletimessquare (444983) <circletimessquare AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @08:08PM (#25549317) Homepage Journal

    epsilon eridani only 850 million years old? there is no way a race as ancient and wise as the vulcan could have come from such a young star system

    look, i am an avid supporter of scientific progress as much as the next slashdotter, but when these so-called astronomers report something that contradicts well-established star trek canon, i have to put my foot down and wonder at the agenda of these propagandizers

    yours,
    star trek fundamentalist

    • Re:heresy! (Score:4, Informative)

      by Flounder (42112) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @08:19PM (#25549421)
      The canon home of Vulcan is 40 Eridani, not Epsilon Eridani. So, no scientific conspiracy.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Frighteningly, I seem to be even more of a Trek geek than you are — Vulcan is in the 40 Eridani star system, aka Omicron Eridani, not Epsilon Eridani.

    • mod parent up (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Digitus1337 (671442)
      He's right, it'd have to be at least 851 million years old.

      All kidding aside, it's very hard to try to figure out just how long it would take to come up with life (almost as we know it) under circumstances even marginally different than our own. That said, the Vulcan are very similar to us because humanoids originate from the same planet. For more on this, see TNG episode 6x20.
      • by Teilo (91279)

        Interestingly enough, this was one bit of canon that originated in the Star Trek novels well before that episode was written. I wish I could remember which ones — it has been over 20 years since I read those things. They were called the Progenitors in a number of the books.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by lysergic.acid (845423)

        that's the one where they find bits and pieces of code hidden in the DNA of various lifeforms on different planets, right?

        does that mean that humans didn't actually evolve naturally, but instead were the result of genetic engineering (intelligent design)? if so, that was a dumb plot line. i mean, don't various humanoid civilizations in the Star Trek universe have vastly different ages? i know humanity isn't 851 million years old, not even by the 24th century. besides, there was also that episode where the E

        • i know humanity isn't 851 million years old, not even by the 24th century.

          That's right, everybody knows the Earth is only 6000 years old!

          *ducks*

        • by Jesus_666 (702802)

          that's the one where they find bits and pieces of code hidden in the DNA of various lifeforms on different planets, right?

          I think its the one where they reconstruct the formula for gasoline because Picard's dad wants him to enter a moped race.

          We might be talking about the same episode, though; there might be some inaccuracies in the German dub.

        • by Chris Burke (6130)

          and although sexual selection may create arbitrary biological characteristics, the general humanoid body design probably isn't completely arbitrary. so even though there may be alien lifeforms that are drastically different from us, it's also possible that there humanoid species out there that evolved independently from us.

          Never have I heard a more robust defense of the ST (and other series but especially ST) tradition that the vast majority of aliens (in particular those that have to show up regularly) loo

        • by CFTM (513264)

          I am very much inclined to agree with you though my evidence is completely anecdotal and IANAG. That being said, I find it fascinating that there are instances of organisms on this planet, who are in environments that are both similar and protected from outside influences, developing the exact same set of adaptation for two different but similar ecological niches.

          My idea, is that our genetic code is much like a root kit for a programming language; he's a procedure to make an "arm", an "eye", a "leg" etc an

    • by Tablizer (95088)

      epsilon eridani only 850 million years old? there is no way a race as ancient and wise as the vulcan could have come from such a young star system

      Vulcans could have come from humanoid-like *settlers*. There was even an episode of NG where they met a holographic recording projection of the original humanoid race that gave rise to all the space races that resemble humans in cheap costumes because truly alien creatures are too expensive for a typical Hollywood budget. Kudos for turning cheapskate-ness into a s

      • Vulcans could have come from humanoid-like *settlers*

        Just another failed Pak colony [wikipedia.org].

        (sorry about crossing the streams, though Niven did write one animated Star Trek episode).

        • Someone send a rescue message?

        • by AJWM (19027)

          though Niven did write one animated Star Trek episode

          Well, yes and no. It was an adaptation (which he did) of his earlier Known Space story, "The Soft Weapon", with Spock substituting for the Puppeteer Nessus in the animation (and other minor variations). (As I'm sure you knew.) Thus the Kzinti end up the Star Trek universe.

          (Niven also did some episodes of "Land of the Lost", none based on his Known Space stories, AFAIK.)

          • Twenty years ago here in Melbourne there was this monthly Star Trek night. They mainly showed episodes of the original TV series. It moved from place to place and attracted a lot of regulars, including some very strange trekkies (who preferred to be known as "treckers") and didn't actually watch anything because they apparently knew it off by heart anyway.

            One month they put on a few of these animated apisodes and I got a surprise when I recognised Niven's story.

            I didn't think much of the episode, though
          • by RockDoctor (15477)

            though Niven did write one animated Star Trek episode

            Well, yes and no. It was an adaptation (which he did) of his earlier Known Space story, "The Soft Weapon", with Spock substituting for the Puppeteer Nessus in the animation (and other minor variations).

            It's been re-written recently. By Niven. With a lot more about what's going on inside Nessus' head. Sorry, hump. not head. Or heads.

            "You saved his life by tying a tourniquet around his neck ? !"

            • by AJWM (19027)

              If you mean the scene in Juggler of Worlds, yes - rewritten with co-author Edward Lerner. Not so much rewritten (the events are the same) but retold from a different viewpoint (ie, Nessus's).

              I heartily recommend the book to any fan of Known Space.

  • Hmm. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @08:14PM (#25549379)

    For those of you who dont want to RTFA but want some reference on why this is important, let me put a quote for you:

    "Studying Epsilon Eridani is like having a time machine to look at our solar system when it was young,"

  • Oh crap! (Score:3, Funny)

    by philspear (1142299) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @08:15PM (#25549383)

    Do we have time to assemble a crack team of oil-rig roughnecks to land on them and nuke them? More importantly, does this mean another terrible Aerosmith song?!?

    • by Jesus_666 (702802)

      More importantly, does this mean another terrible Aerosmith song?!?

      Screw the song, do we have to suffer another "I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing"-level music video? When that video was released the Yangtze burst its banks, the ruble devalued by 70%, Iraq officially suspended all cooperation with UNSCOM teams and over 200 were killed and over 4,500 injured in US embassy bombings. And that's just one month.

      I really hope the United Nations and/or NATO will make sure this tragedy doesn't happen again. I advocate s

  • by tirerim (1108567) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @08:19PM (#25549419)

    This one [sciencenews.org] actually gives some information on how they detected the belts (short version: it's based on infrared emissions that could only come from rocky debris).

    And here [arxiv.org] is the actual paper on arXiv, if you want the full technical details of their methods.

    • by Tablizer (95088)

      how they detected the belts (short version: it's based on infrared emissions that could only come from rocky debris).

      I wonder if a bunch of orbiting solar panels would generate a similar signature? In other words, if another civilization was mining star-light via panels, their signature could resemble asteroid belts. Of course its hard to really know without knowing more about the technology they actually use, but we might find something unnatural about it upon further study.

      • If we were to build a solar farm in the sahara (550 x 550 km), this would generate enough energy to fill the current need of the whole of humanity.

        If at a distance of 10 light years we could detect solar panels and confuse them for an asteroid belt, there are some aliens with quite an energy bill.
  • This star (rather, a fictional planet orbiting it) is a central feature in a very good series of books by Alastair Reynolds. I suggest people take a look at the Revelation Space series (although the first book is a bit dry, his writing matures quite nicely through the series.)

    Sorry, I'm re-reading the series now, and this just jumped out at me. Word association = yay.
  • In a hundred or so years when we have the technology to get there. Might even be the ideal place for a colony someday.

    • Research into ion engines is humming right along.
      • The theoretical upper limit of an ion engine gets you there in about 100 years, and doesn't offer you any way to stop, your probe better snap very quick pictures.
        • > ...doesn't offer you any way to stop...

          Of course it does. You accelerate halfway and decellerate the rest. Takes a bigger ship and either more acceleration or more time, but it's straightforward.

          • Halfway puts you in interstellar space. That gives you zero sunlight or particles to power your ion engines.
            • > Halfway puts you in interstellar space.

              I would never have guessed.

              > That gives you zero sunlight...

              You seriously expect to run a starship engine on sunlight?

              > ...or particles to power your ion engines.

              "Particles"?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by corbettw (214229)

      Yes, it would be a good candidate for a probe, especially since we could learn more about the early solar system.

      But as for setting up a colony, that seems doubtful. The star is only 850 million years old, it doesn't seem likely that any rocky planets in orbit would be stable enough yet to support life (it would be a lot easier to set up camp on a planet teaming with at least primitive life, assuming an ecosystem compatible with life from Earth). Not to mention the increased likelihood of cometary impacts o

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        The place to put the colony is in the inner asteroid belt. Earthlike planets if any would be just a bonus. Based on what little we already know about the system, it's an obvious place to go.
        Maybe just robots and nanites at first.

        I wish I'd kept a copy of when I submitted this story earlier today, although the posted version is as good as mine.

        see previous slashdot stories
        http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=07/02/18/1359214 [slashdot.org] Interstellar Ark
        http://science.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=07/05/11/214248 [slashdot.org] Mi

      • I don't see that life by age 850M is particularly improbable. There is a good chance that Earth had some sort of life by that age and photosynthesis not much later. It is not a great stretch to assume that things might have happened a bit faster elsewhere, especially if the late heavy bombardment happened earlier (or not at all).

        An ecosytem compatible with Earth life, on the other hand, seems extremely unlikely (not that it would be necessary, as long as there was an oxygen atmosphere).

        • Or if it has C02, seed it with plants - if you feel it's OK to impose an "oxygen disaster" on an innocent planet.
    • by Fluffeh (1273756) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @10:33PM (#25550385)

      In a hundred or so years when we have the technology to get there. Might even be the ideal place for a colony someday.

      Look, I agree that it's a nice place to go visit, but if you looked into things, you would find that it is 10.5 Light Years Away [solstation.com] from earth it would take close to an eternity to get there with current rocket technology [northwestern.edu] and certainly what is being developed. And not to rain on the parade again, but before anyone goes touting ION ENGINES will get us there, no, they really won't. You see Ion Engines [northwestern.edu] need large amounts of power to run. Really large amounts that are generally limited to the amount of juice that can be generated by huge solar panels. Short of putting a nuclear reactor on this ship to get us there, we simply won't have enough sunlight to make the engine run once is starts to fade away from the centerish part of our solar system.

      In short, I would love to agree, but I really think that you would need to change the "hundred or so" part of your post to be "many hundreds or so".

      That's assuming we can deal with the massive solar winds [wikipedia.org] that are 30 times as powerful as the ones in our system. Did I forget that part?

      • by ceoyoyo (59147)

        There's no real theoretical reason why we couldn't send a probe to a star even 10 light years away with current or near current technology. It would just take quite a while to get there. Yes, it would definitely carry a nuke of some sort.

        • "quite a while to get there"

          yeah, like maybe 100,000 years.

          • by ceoyoyo (59147)

            What a wonderfully insightful reply. Let's see if we can't do a bit better than making up numbers, shall we?

            The rocket equation is m0 = m1*e^(dV/ve).

            Let's suppose I want to get there in about 1000 years, and that my unfueled probe weighs half a million kilos. Might be too low, might be too high. This is back of the envelope.

            Now, the fuel. Let's use a VASIMR drive, with an Isp of 300000 m/s. To go 10 light years in 1000 years we have to have a delta V of 3 * 10^6 m/s. Plug in all the numbers and you en

            • by gstoddart (321705)

              Yes, 1000 years is a long time to wait, but we've already got projects going on with that kind of time frame.

              Ummmm ... what would those be??

              Human engineering has never had a project on the go which has a timeline of 1000 years. At least, we haven't finished any.

              We have architectural and archeological things well over 1000 years old, but I'm not yet convinced we have the capacity to maintain any pursuit for 1000 years and keep any sort of coherent focus. By a thousand years it would be myth or forgotten ab

            • I admit, I pulled a number out of my ass and made it excessively large. The grand parent post referred to conventional rockets. Not nuclear powered, ion or VASIMR. I assumed you were continuing along the same thread -- conventional. Coasting to the a star 10.5 ly from Earth could literally take 100,000 years. It's been my experience, unfortunately, that when someone believes one can send a probe to a nearby star they have no idea what the distances involved are. They've been watching (and believing) t

              • by ceoyoyo (59147)

                Yeah, the grandparent post went off on a rant against ion and plasma drives because (gasp) you have to have a nuclear reactor.

                My point was that not only is a nuclear reactor reasonable, but a reactor, along with other technology we know about now, makes the trip an actual possibility.

                1000 years is a long time, but it's not out of the question. As I said, we now have cold storage seed banks and things that are designed to be used, if ever, far in the future. Also, such a probe would give us immediate resul

        • Before we send a probe I think we should first extend our (read: world) space programs to more reachable goals.

          No, I am not talking about Mars. Really, who's bright idea was it to want to build an outpost on a planet we have to travel 6 months to even reach?
          Talk about jumping the gun.

          IMHO first step should be the moon. It is reachable, maintainable and if something happens, the station can be evacuated and all personnel can back to earth in 2 days.

          If we can reach that goal it would be a huge step.

          This would

          • Re: (Score:1, Flamebait)

            by John Hasler (414242)

            > IMHO first step should be the moon.

            Um, we've already done that. It would be interesting to go back and we should do it, but it would be nothing new.

            > Plus we also have a platform for further reaches into space.

            It isn't a particularly useful platform.

            • by KillerBob (217953)

              Um, we've already done that. It would be interesting to go back and we should do it, but it would be nothing new.

              Really?!?! Where's the moon city? I haven't heard about it....

              The GP was talking about establishing a *base* on the moon. Personally, I think either the moon, or at a Lagrange point... one of the Lagrange points (L4 or L5) would be a very good place to establish a launch point for the rest of the solar system, because something like 90% of the fuel consumed to get to Mars is used just leaving Ear

              • > The GP was talking about establishing a *base* on the moon.

                Very useful for research, especially astronomy, but not very useful as a departure point for elsewhere. Why climb out of one gravity well only to dive into another?

                > one of the Lagrange points (L4 or L5) would be a very good place to establish a launch
                > point for the rest of the solar system

                Yes.

          • by ceoyoyo (59147)

            Certainly. Before we seriously talk about an interstellar probe we're probably going to need some decent space infrastructure anyway. The thing isn't going to be small, and it would cost a fortune to launch it all from Earth.

            My point was that such a probe is something we could technically do in the not to distant future. The great-grandparent's retort that such a thing is nigh on impossible is not true. We'll certainly do something of the kind at some point.

            • > We'll certainly do something of the kind at some point.

              Unfortunately, I don't think it is at all certain that we will.

      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        If you use three different technologies, you could probably do it with a three-figure (years) travel time. 1. Ion engines with solar panels for near-solar acceleration; 2. some kind of nuke battery once you're too far from the sun for the solar panels; 3. solar sails for deceleration once you reach e Eridani (put that solar wind to work). No good for people, but fine for a probe.
      • we simply won't have enough sunlight to make the engine run once is starts to fade away from the centerish part of our solar system.

        You don't need or want the engine to keep running, though. You build up your speed in the inner solar system, set your trajectory and turn the engine off.

        The real problem with ion engines is that you'll be moving way too fast to gather enough sunlight to slow down in the destination solar system.

        • True, you probably won't be able to keep the engine going, but you certainly don't want to build up speed in the inner solar system. Odds are you want to slingshot around Venus (or maybe Sol), gain speed, and then slingshot again around Jupiter or Saturn, and THEN light the main engine. It's all about conservation of fuel and getting the biggest bang for the buck. It really doesn't matter if you're using nuclear pulse, ion or any other engine technology humanity might invent any time soon.

          IMO, what's mor
          • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

            by John Hasler (414242)

            > Anyway, the Oort cloud may well be like the Alps were to Bronze Age man: impassible
            > except in certain locations and conditions.

            That's silly. The density of the Oort cloud is very, very low. It consists mostly of kilometer-size objects seperated by tens of millions of kilometers. It does not form any sort of a barrier.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Markvs (17298)
              While it is low density, it's also full of smaller bodies which have questionable movement characteristics. Quite simply, we cannot be sure at this time if it will be an issue or not. Being in a ship going (say) .01c and getting bombarded by a dozen basketball sized objects per hour for days would be an issue!
              • See my comment above. Your assumptions lead to the conclusion that the Oort cloud has the mass of a galaxy.

      • by master_p (608214)

        I don't understand why not use nuclear reactors to propel us to relativistic speeds. It's the only possible way to do it, unless there is a major physics breakthrough.

        • > I don't understand why not use nuclear reactors to propel us to relativistic speeds.

          Mostly because we don't know how yet. We will.

          > It's the only possible way to do it, unless there is a major physics breakthrough.

          There are other ways (at least for the launch) such as laser rockets. Any starship will certainly carry a nuclear reactor (possibly fusion), though.

        • We don't talk about relativistic speed, we talk about fractions of relativistic speed. Say we use "c" for the constant speed of light. If we can get to even .1 light speed (something which is pretty much impossible at this time, even with an Orion pusher-plate nuclear ship), we'd get to that star in 100 years. So you're talking either a probe or at best a multi-generational starship. And good luck getting data back over such distances!
          • > ...we'd get to that star in 100 years. So you're talking either a probe or at best a
            > multi-generational starship.

            Assuming lifespans continue to be limited by aging.

            > And good luck getting data back over such distances!

            That's what lasers are for.

      • > Short of putting a nuclear reactor on this ship to get us there...

        Yes, of course a starship would carry a nuclear reactor.

      • by LWATCDR (28044)

        Well since a hundred years ago we where lucky to fly at 45 MPH or shoot a rocket a few hundred feet it might be possible.
        Notice that I said a hundred years or so. Also in a hundred years I would hope we would have fusion and possibly a pulse fusion drive.

    • I think it would be cheaper and easier to build a very very big telescope in orbit or on the Moon.

      Since the light from Epsilon Eridani is only 10 years old, we'd find out what's there faster than sending a probe to take photos.

      • It would take a 100 km telescope to resolve planetary features of continental scale. Worth doing before sending a colony ship, but no substitute for exploration.

  • never tell me the odds

  • 3 rings - not 2 (Score:5, Informative)

    by denzacar (181829) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @09:10PM (#25549827) Journal

    From TFA:

    Astronomers have discovered that the nearby star Epsilon Eridani has two rocky asteroid belts and an outer icy ring, making it a triple-ring system.
    The inner asteroid belt is a virtual twin of the belt in our solar system, while the outer asteroid belt holds 20 times more material. Moreover, the presence of these three rings of material implies that unseen planets confine and shape them.

    Two rings of rocks, and one of ice.

  • I bet they can't even accurately predict what the odds are of successfully navigating through this asteroid belt.

    (It'd take me only 10 parsecs to figure it out. That's how good I am at).

    Sometimes I amaze myself..
    • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Tuesday October 28, 2008 @09:29PM (#25549943) Homepage Journal

      I bet they can't even accurately predict what the odds are of successfully navigating through this asteroid belt.

      Easy. Just stay out of plane.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Fluffeh (1273756)

      (It'd take me only 10 parsecs to figure it out. That's how good I am at).

      It would take you around 300 000 000 000 000 kilometers to work out if you can get through something roughly 8 975 880 000 km wide?

      You too can read about what a parsec [wikipedia.org] and astronomical unit [wikipedia.org] is in the privacy of your own home.

    • by Sibko (1036168)
      This picture [wikimedia.org] shows how many asteroids there are in the inner solar system.

      The high population of the main belt makes for a very active environment, where collisions between asteroids occur frequently. Collisions between main belt bodies with a mean radius of 10 km are expected to occur about once every 10 million years.

      If you were to take a random picture of some place in the belt, you'd get nothing but blackness. If I recall correctly, the average distance between asteroids in the belt is around 100,000 miles. You have an extremely good chance of not hitting anything even by blindly going through.

  • Maybe those planets showed signs of dangerously uncivilized behavior and the Martians decided to off them [wikipedia.org].
  • A co-worker and I were discussing this story today. He had a very poor education growing up and I had to explain a great deal for him to really 'get' what's going on at Epsilon Eridani.

    Can anyone recommend a good basic astronomy/cosmology book that I can give him to bring him somewhat up to speed? For reference, I had to explain that all the stars in the sky are just like our sun; that's his level of understanding. He's very smart and motivated to learn, but has very little background in science.

    Thanks!

    • by rugatero (1292060)
      How about this? [thespaceshop.com] :)
      Seriously though, I've heard good things about Cosmology: The Science of the Universe, by Edward Harrison - although I can say no more than that.
  • CONCORD reports heavy inbound jumpgate congestion caused by gangs of Hulks, Skiffs and haulers on their way to get some sweet, sweet ore out of those roids.

  • Sorry, I'm full up on ore.

    Can you point me toward a sizeable gas nebula?

Going the speed of light is bad for your age.

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