“We believe we have direct evidence for an ongoing Late Heavy Bombardment in the nearby star system Eta Corvi, occurring about the same time as in our solar system,” said Carey Lisse, senior research scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., and lead author of a paper detailing the findings to appear in the Astrophysical Journal.
The evidence was gathered with NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, which has detected “signs of icy bodies raining down” on Eta Corvi. A band of dust surrounding the system strongly correlates to an obliterated comet, and that band also lies at a particularly interesting location in reference to its star: “The dust is located close enough to Eta Corvi that Earth-like worlds could exist in the collision zone, suggesting that planets like our own might be involved.” According to NASA, it’s just the right age, too–at about a billion years old, the Eta Corvi system is about how old ours was when the Late Heavy Bombardment–believed to have brought water (and life)–to Earth occurred.
As if it didn’t already appear to have a similar upbringing as our own solar system, Eta Corvi has its own version of the Kuiper Belt–a larger, colder disc of dust which lies much more distant from the star, which conveniently seems “like the proper environment for a reservoir of cometary bodies.”
It’s an exciting find, and one that will give us a great deal of insight to events that occured a little closer to home in a time when we weren’t around to catch them in action. “We think the Eta Corvi system should be studied in detail to learn more about the rain of impacting comets and other objects that may have started life on our own planet,” Lisse said.