Scientists discover oldest known solar system

The system contains Earth-sized planets that orbit a star smaller than the sun

Published: Monday 02 February 2015

Illustration courtesy of Peter Devine and Tiago Campante of the University of Birmingham

A team of scientists, led by the University of Birmingham, has discovered a five-planet solar system based on observations from the NASA Kepler spacecraft. The system contains planets with sizes between those of Mercury and Venus.

They orbit around Kepler-444, a metal-poor sun-like star from the old population of the Galactic thick disk. The star was formed 11.2 billion years ago when the universe was less than 20 per cent of its current age. This pale yellow-orange star is 25 per cent smaller than the sun and substantially cooler.

Scientists claim this makes it the oldest known system of terrestrial-size planets and may help calculate when in universe’s history planets began to form.

Tiago Campante, from the University of Birmingham's School of Physics and Astronomy, who led the research, said, “There are far-reaching implications for this discovery. We now know that Earth-sized planets have formed throughout most of the Universe's 13.8 billion year history, which could provide scope for the existence of ancient life in the galaxy.”

Campante explains that the five planets orbit their parent star in less than 10 days and can be called a miniature version of the inner planets in our own solar system. Their observations also imply that thick-disk stars like Kepler-444 were among the hosts to the first Galactic planets. The findings have been published in The Astrophysical Journal.

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