Recently, astronomers have found some very old planets. These planets are orbiting a star that is only 376 light years from Earth and shockingly only formed about a billion years after the formation of the universe. At 12.8 billion years old, these 2 Jupiter like planets are some of the oldest planets known to mankind. It was recently thought that planets were only formed after the initial round of stars exploded, sending their newly created heavy elements out into the universe. These heavier elements were thought to be needed to form the core of planets around which the rest of the planet would later form. With the discovery of these ancient planets, the ideas about planet formation are being permanently changed.
While these Jupiter sized planets are likely to be nothing more than large balls of Hydrogen and possibly Helium, the two most abundant elements in the early universe, more information gathered about these early planets will influence ideas about planetary formation forever. It used to be thought that they heavier elements were needed to form a planet but newer models predict that a perturbation from another nearby star could spark planetary formation. It’s also thought that large clumps of light elements could possibly clump together in a significant way after a certain mass is reached, thus allowing for large planet formation around a dense core of light elements.
Finding these planets also increases the likelihood of finding planets around ancient stars, which yet again increases the amount of planetary bodies in our Galaxy and in the Universe. It also allows for the possibility that alien life may have formed billions of years earlier than expected. While our current ideas about life needing heavy elements to conduct the chemistry of life would prevent this, the chance that there were planets formed only a billion years after the big bang does have an impact. We certainly do not have all of the information needed to fully identify the possibilities that these newly discovered planets have to offer but the mere fact that they exist opens up chances for discovery that had not been considered available in the past. Given that these planets may be 8 billion years older than our Sun, we should respect these elderly planets for what they have been through and learn what we can from their extended life.