Scientists led by the University of Birmingham have found a solar system with five Earth-sized planets dating from the dawn of the galaxy.
The discovery, published in The Astrophysical Journal, was made possible by the NASA Kepler mission. Using a technique called asteroseismology, an international team of astronomers was able to observe a Sun-like star (Kepler-444) hosting five planets with sizes ranging between that of Mercury and Venus.
Kepler-444 was formed 11.2 billion years ago, when the universe was less than 20 per cent its current age. This is the oldest known system of territorial-sized planets in the Milky Way – more than twice as old as the Earth.
Existence of Life on Earth
The team was led by Dr Tiago Campante, from the University’s School of Physics and Astronomy. He 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 and help to pinpoint the beginning of what we might call the ‘era of planet formation’.
First glimpses of five Earth-sized planets
Professor Bill Chaplin, Dr Campante’s colleague and lead scientist on the Kepler Mission study of solar-type stars using asteroseismology, added: ‘We are now getting first glimpses of the variety of galactic environments conducive to the formation of these small worlds.
‘As a result, the path towards a more complete understanding of early planet formation in the galaxy is now unfolding before us.’