Home / Science / Ancient super-earths introduce a longer timeline for extraterrestrial life.

Ancient super-earths introduce a longer timeline for extraterrestrial life.



The molten rocky planet orbits one of the galaxy’s oldest stars, perhaps the best evidence by scientists that extraterrestrial life may have formed in the distant past.

The planet, called TOI-561 b, is 280 light-years away, is about 50% larger than ours, and has three times the mass, but is unlikely to survive. It orbits so close to the star that the researchers calculated that its surface temperature exceeds 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, causing the top of the rock to turn into molten rock.

But the super-earth is older than scientists had expected for earlier rocky planets, suggesting that other stars may have an ancient Earth-like Earth with a temperature more suitable for life. Such a planet may exist twice as long as the Earth, allowing ample time to support complex life and even intelligent civilizations.

The star TOI-561

b orbits in the galaxy’s “thick sheet”, above and below the flat plane that holds most of the Milky Way’s material. The star in the thick disk is about 10 billion years old, and researchers think the planet is about as old.

NASA's Milky Way

Spiral galaxies such as the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies (pictured) have flat disks made up of mostly stars.

NASA / JPL-Caltech


“TOI-561 b is the first planet to have a confirmed rock composition around such an aging star, indicating that rocky planets formed in most of the history of the universe,” said Lauren Weiss, PhD. At the University of Hawaii and The lead researcher on the findings spoke at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society. “I was just wondering if there is anyone we want to talk to.”

The findings were published Monday in The Astronomical Journal.

Earth-like planets are almost as old as our galaxy.

Hubble's Extra Deep Field

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope captures nearly 10,000 galaxies in this Ultra Deep Field image.

NASA / ESA



Astronomers can tell how old TOI-561 b is because the planet’s density is similar to that of Earth, although its mass is more than three times that. That means it may not contain many heavy elements like iron or magnesium.

It took galaxies billions of years to fill the heavy elements, as they had to be forged deeper into stars. As stars age, die and explode, these elements disperse and eventually form new planets 10 billion years ago. Heavy elements are sparse and planets are not very dense. It seems to be when TOI-561 b was born.

“Gosh, if we’ve only lived 5 billion years, imagine what would happen on a rocky world that was about 10 billion years old,” Weiss said.

Her team discovered TOI-561 b using the WM Keck Observatory on Hawaii’s Maunakea island, with two more planets orbiting the star. But their large size and low mass indicate the same gas as Jupiter.

Alien hunting may include fossils.

Mars Rovers Mission Example Return Perseverance

Illustration of NASA’s Mars rover Perseverance using a core drill on Mars rock samples.

NASA / JPL-Caltech



The discovery adds to a growing body of research suggesting that life on other planets may evolve, evolve technological civilizations and go extinct long before life forms on Earth.

This could open up new avenues in the search for life beyond Earth. Instead of listening to messages from aliens searching for other clever creatures, scientists could have more luck scanning the sky for fossils.

“If you look for evidence of things from the past besides the present, you have a greater chance of discovering something,” Harvard astrophysicist Avi Loeb told Insider Aylin Woodward.

Loeb’s new book “Extraterrestrial: The First Sign of Intelligent Life Beyond Earth” states that the first interstellar visitor to see Earth through Earth – a disc-shaped object known as’ Oumuamua – is a piece of alien technology. At the end of life

OUMUAMUA objects display Aliens, Hawaii Observatory  .JPG.

Artist’s impression of the first known interstellar object visiting the solar system “Oumuamua”.

European Southern Observatory / Kornmesser University / Handout via Reuters


NASA’s next rover to Mars, Perseverance, is set to find the remnants of past life. If the landing goes according to plan on Feb. 18, robotic explorers will scan the ancient lake for signs of long-lost Martian microbes. It is set to collect samples of interesting rocks and dirt and save them for later missions to bring them back to Earth.

For the rest of the galaxy, much of the current effort has been focused on finding rocky planets that could potentially have more habitable temperatures, and then probe the atmosphere for signs of life.

James Webb Space Telescope

Engineers and technicians work on the James Webb Space Telescope, October 14, 2016.

NASA / Chris Gunn



NASA’s $ 10 billion James Webb Space Telescope is scheduled to launch into Earth orbit on Halloween. The project aims to study every phase of the universe’s history, helping reveal how the first stars and galaxies formed. When looking at stars and other planets with infrared light, JWST should be able to see the alien planet’s atmosphere.

Other telescopes aimed at examining Earth-sized planets, such as the TOI-561 b, have been proposed, but have not yet been built. The Habitat Exoplanet Observatory (HabEx) provides the first direct image of Earth-like planets. Another telescope concept called the Large UV / Optical / IR Surveyor (LUVOIR) looks for signs of habitation or life on distant planets.


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