The universe is about 13.8 billion years old, give or take a few million years.
By comparison our Earth is only about 4.54 billion years old - meaning that there was a good 9.2 billion years between the Big Bang and the rocks that formed our planet deciding to play nice in orbit around our sun.
But while that leads some of us to assume that it took the universe a long time to start making planets like Earth, we've known for a while that large planets could be much older than that.
Now a new study suggests that we might have badly underestimated how soon Earth-like worlds could have emerged too. In fact, new research says that rocky planets like Earth might have been formed as soon as a billion years after the big bang. And that might have interesting implications for how soon life might have emerged too.
Five rocky worlds orbiting a star which is 11.2 billion years old have been found using data from NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope by Tiago Campante at the University of Birmingham. Each of the planets is smaller than Earth, but about the right size to be rocky like our own world. While in this case the planets orbit far too close to their star sustain life, it suggests planets with better conditions for life might have emerged billions of years earlier than we thought.
New Scientist has an interview with Campante in which he describes how he was able to find the dwarf star in question - Kepler 444 - and locate planets in orbit around it 117 light years from Earth.
"Now that we know that these planets can be twice as old as Earth, this opens the possibility for the existence of ancient life in the galaxy," says Tiago.