Jan 12, 2021 - Science

Scientists discover 10 billion-year-old "super-Earth" planet

The 10 billion year old super earth.

Artist's illustration of the planet TOI-561b. Image: W. M. Keck Observatory/Adam Makarenko

Scientists have discovered a rocky “super-Earth” planet in an ancient star system that likely formed 10 billion years ago, only a few billion years after our Milky Way galaxy came to be.

Why it matters: The newfound planet likely can't support life, but in general, researchers think older planetary systems have better odds of possibly harboring life because they're long-lived.

  • "Gosh, if we've only been around for 5 billion years, imagine what could have happened on a rocky world that's been around for 10 billion years. I'd sure like to find out," the University of Hawaii's Lauren Weiss said in a press conference on Monday at the American Astronomical Society annual meeting.

What they found: The planet — called TOI-561b — orbits its star in less than half an Earth day and is about 50% larger than our planet.

  • The world likely plays host to an ocean of magma on the side of the planet that faces its star, Weiss said.
  • Weiss also said that there are two other planets orbiting the star, which are thought to be gaseous and more distant than the rocky world.
  • Researchers used NASA’s TESS mission and the Keck Observatory to find and confirm the super-Earth, and a study detailing the find has been accepted to the Astronomical Journal.
Go deeper