The planet is 10 billion years old. Image Credit: Adam Makarenko / W.M. Keck Observatory
Astronomers have identified a nearby extrasolar world that is not only terrestrial in nature, but also ancient.
Situated a mere 280 light years from the Earth in orbit around the orange dwarf TOI-561 - one of our galaxy's oldest stars - this rocky world, which is around 1.5 times the size of the Earth, happens to be one of the oldest terrestrial planets ever seen at a whopping 10 billion years old.
This makes it twice the age of our solar system and almost as old as the universe itself.
Dubbed TOI-561 b, the planet is unlikely to be able to support life due to its 10.5-hour orbit and the fact that it is tidally locked, turning one side into a permanent ocean of molten rock.
Despite this however, it represents evidence that terrestrial worlds like the Earth can remain stable for a remarkably long time and provides some clue as to the ultimate fate of our own planet.
"TOI-561 b is one of the oldest rocky planets yet discovered," said Lauren Weiss of the University of Hawaii. "Its existence shows that the universe has been forming rocky planets almost since its inception 14 billion years ago."
This planet opens up another possibility, too. Given that it can take billions of years for complex life to evolve, as it did on Earth, ancient planets such as this - under the right conditions - could be particularly promising candidates for life.
There could even be alien civilizations that have existed for longer than our entire solar system.