Ars Technica - Kepler discovered a system of 11-billion-year-old planets
John Timmer on the discovery of what maybe the oldest planets in the universe.
The first stars, which formed 400 million years after the Big Bang, were massive, short-lived beasts. But their deaths scattered the heavier elements into the Universe, which eased the formation of smaller stars like our Sun. The heavier elements were also essential for the formation of another feature of our Solar System: the planets.
But just because the raw materials for planets were in place, it doesn’t mean that the conditions were appropriate for their formation. But a new discovery, made using data from the Kepler mission, suggests what the authors call the “era of planet formation” didn’t take too long. The discovery is the Kepler-444 system, which contains five small rocky planets that formed over 11 billion years ago.
As far as the Kepler data was concerned, Kepler-444 was simply a single star with evidence of transiting planets. But an international team of researchers took a closer look with Hawaii’s Keck I telescope, which has a significantly higher resolving power than Kepler. And there they spotted a separate object, orbiting with a period of 430 years. An examination of the light from this revealed that it was a binary containing two red dwarfs. That makes Kepler-444 a three-star system.