Two huge Jupiter-sized planets found in 2012 orbiting a star 375 light-years away that will soon transform into a red giant (image above), are among the oldest alien worlds yet discovered according to scientists at the Max-Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany. "The Milky Way itself was not completely formed yet," said Johny Setiawan. During a survey using radial velocity, in which astronomers watch for periodic wobbles in a star's light due to the gravitational tugs of orbiting worlds, Setiawan and colleagues found the signatures of the two planets orbiting the star, dubbed HIP 11952.
"Usually planets form just shortly after the star formation," Setiawan said. "Second-generation planets might also form after a star has died, but this is still under debate."
The discovery indicates that planet formation in the early universe was possible despite the fact that stars in existence back then were lacking in elements heavier than hydrogen and helium, which runs counter to a widely accepted theory called the accretion model, which says that heavy elements are needed to form planets. In the case of HIP 11952, "its iron abundance is only about one percent that of our sun," Setiawan said.
The accretion theory has so far been backed up by observations: Most of the planet-harboring stars discovered to date are relatively young and have moderate to high amounts of metals, but Setiawan says that "astronomers may think the accretion model is correct because planet hunters using Kepler Mission data have been targeting mostly young, sunlike stars."
"To verify this issue, it is necessary to do a planet-search survey around [older] metal-poor stars," Setiawan said.
The Daily Galaxy via Astronomy & Astrophysics
Image credit: lcse.umn.edu