A tiny, old star just 12 light-years away might host two temperate, rocky planets, astronomers announced today. If they’re confirmed, both of the newly spotted worlds are nearly identical to Earth in mass, and both planets are in orbits that could allow liquid water to trickle and puddle on their surfaces. National Geographic reports: Scientists estimate that the stellar host, known as Teegarden’s star, is at least eight billion years old, or nearly twice the sun’s age. That means any planets orbiting it are presumably as ancient, so life as we know it has had more than enough time to evolve. And for now, the star is remarkably quiet, with few indications of the tumultuous stellar quakes and flares that tend to erupt from such objects.
The two worlds orbit a star so faint that it wasn’t even spotted until 2003, when NASA astrophysicist Bonnard Teegarden was mining astronomical data sets andlooking for dim, nearby dwarf stars that had so far evaded detection. Teegarden’s star is a stellar runt that’s barely 9 percent of the sun’s mass. It’s known as an ultra-cool M dwarf, and it emits most of its light in the infrared — just like the star TRAPPIST-1, which hosts seven known rocky planets. But Teegarden’s star is just a third as far from Earth as the TRAPPIST-1 system, which makes it ideal for further characterization. The team of astronomers reported their findings in the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics.