Astronomers Discover Ancient Solar System With 5 Earthlike Planets

PHOTO: An illustration of Kepler-444 and its five Earth-sized planets.Tiago Campante/Peter Devine
An illustration of Kepler-444 and its five Earth-sized planets.

The discovery of a solar system as old as the Milky Way and with five Earthlike planets could shed new light on the possibility of ancient life forms in the galaxy.

The planets orbit around Kepler 444, which at 11.2 billion years old, is more than twice as old as the sun, according to researchers at the University of Birmingham in Britain who published their findings today in The Astrophysical Journal.

Although it is 117 light-years from Earth, in the direction of the constellations Cygnus and Lyra, researchers were able to learn more about the solar system by using astroseismology.

Listening to the hum of Kepler 444, the team was able notice the slight changes in brightness created by the noise, which enabled them to measure the star's diameter, mass and calculate its approximate age.

Researchers studied the brightness of the star over time and detected planets passing in front of it, creating a slight dimming effect. Depending how much the light was dimmed, researchers were then able to measure the size of the planets, using Kepler 444 as a baseline.

"There are far-reaching implications for this discovery," lead researcher Tiago Campante said in a statement. "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."

Since the newly discovered planets are older than Earth is, researchers hope that by studying them, they may learn more about planet formation — including what could be in store for our home.