A groundbreaking discovery by astronomers of an ancient solar system with five Earth-like worlds could shed light on the studies of life forms in the galaxy. This solar system is gauged to be as old as the Milky Way galaxy itself. The exotic worlds of ancient solar system orbit around a star that is 11.2 billion years – more than twice the age of the Sun which gives life to Earth.
The planets discovered are part of the orbital system around Kepler 444. The researchers that published these findings in the Astrophysical Journal belong to the University of Birmingham in England.
The ancient solar system that surrounds Kepler 444 is located near the constellations of Lyra and Cygnus. Even though the star is located 117 light years beyond Earth, the researchers of the University of Birmingham were able to learn a great amount about the Earth-like planets by using a method called astroseismology.
Also known as stellar seismology, astroseismology is way in which astronomers can interpret the internal structure of a star by measuring the way in which a planet’s motion affects seismic activity inside a star. Similar methods are used on Earth during earthquakes to gauge the oscillations of tectonic plates that affect the interior of the planet.
By carefully observing the “hum” of Kepler 444, the research team observed minute changes in the star’s brightness created by the hum of the star. This observation allowed them to gauge the star’s diameter, mass, and general age.
Over time, the researchers studied the brightness of Kepler 444 and measured the planets passing in front, which creates a dimming effect. Astronomers use this technique after determining the star’s size to measure the size of the planets orbiting around it.
They discovered that most of the five planets in the ancient solar system are the size of Mercury and Venus. As well, they have found that the star, Kepler 444, has a cooler burning temperature and smaller Hydrogen to Helium burn ratio than the Sun. Though, they have yet to determine whether or not one of the planets is within the “Goldilocks” range. This range is attributed to the Earth where it is just far away and just close enough to a star to harbor liquid water, thus supporting carbon-based life.
Tiago Campante, lead researcher on the project, explained that there are great implications for this discovery. He further said that discovering Earth-sized planets is fairly common in the search for extra solar worlds in what are now called ancient solar systems. Earth-sized planets have formed throughout the Universe’s history of nearly 14 billion years. This could provide the evidence needed to prove the existence of ancient life in the Milky Way galaxy and other galaxies observed by astronomers.
Since these planets are much, much older than Earth, astronomers hope that their studies will forge a path that will allow them to gain information for the formation of planets. This could also show what will happen to our planet billions of years in the future.
Right now, it is nearly impossible to see if the planets around Kepler are capable of harboring liquid water and life. Though, the discovery of the five extra solar planets around the Kepler star have allowed astronomers to get a head-start in determining if ancient life once inhabited the ancient solar system.
By: Alex Lemieux
Picture: European Southern Observatory – Flickr License