Five rocky planets and their ancient star have been found in our Milky Way Galaxy, and scientists estimate that these planetary bodies have existed since the dawn of time. The ancient star, Kepler-444, and its five orbiting planets comprise the oldest planetary system ever discovered by astronomers, clocking in at nearly 11.2 billion years old.
The Los Angeles Times reports that Kepler-444 is estimated to be 75 percent as massive as our own sun and is nearly 117 light years away from our own planet Earth.
Researchers first discovered Kepler-444 and its surrounding five planets using images taken by NASA’s Kepler spacecraft. The planetary bodies are smaller than Earth and are predicted to be around the size of Mercury or Venus. Their smaller size allows them to orbit more rapidly around the main star, completing a full revolution in less than 10 days. Steve Howell, NASA’s Kepler/K2 project scientist believes that the planets’ proximity to their star prevented any existence of life and they currently remain uninhabitable.
“While this star formed a long time ago, in fact before most of the stars in the Milky Way, we have no indication that any of these planets have now or ever had life on them. At their current orbital distances, life as we know it could not exist on these ancient worlds.”
Even though this planetary system may not harbor any alien life, the planets’ very existence does shed light on the possibility of Earth-like planets that formed in the early ages of our 13.7 billion year old universe.
In fact, scientists are surprised by this recent discovery.
At an age of 11.2 billion years old, this planetary system would have been formed just over two billion years after the Big Bang. Considering the fact that the only elements present during the first few eons after the creation of the universe were hydrogen, helium, and small traces of lithium, scientists previously believed that planets like the ones surrounding Kepler-444 could not have formed in ancient times. Only later, when most of the other elements were created within stars and released by supernova explosions, most metals and other substances on the periodic table made their first appearance in the universe. The planets surrounding Kepler-444, however, clearly show that previous conclusions have been incorrect.
This recent discovery may suggest that the formation of planets was possible during the early years of the universe and could impact the way we perceive our universe and other planetary systems.