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Astronomers find solar system more than double ours in age

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This artist’s rendering made available by Tiago Campante and Peter Devine shows the Kepler-444 star system, surrounded by at least five earth-sized planets. On Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015, an international team of astronomers announced that this extrasolar system is 11.2 billion years old. With the age of the universe pegged at 13.8 billion years, this is the oldest star with close-to-Earth-size planets ever found. (AP Photo/Tiago Campante, Peter Devine)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — A newly discovered solar system — with five small rocky planets — makes ours look like a baby.

An international team of astronomers announced Tuesday that this extrasolar system is 11.2 billion years old. With the age of the universe pegged at 13.8 billion years, this is the oldest star with close-to-Earth-size planets ever found.

By comparison, our solar system is 4.5 billion years old.

The five planets are smaller than Earth, with the largest about the size of Venus and the smallest just bigger than Mercury. These planets orbit their star in less than 10 days at less than one-tenth the Earth’s distance from the sun, which makes them too close for habitation, said the University of Sydney’s Daniel Huber, part of the team.

“We’ve never seen anything like this — it is such an old star and the large number of small planets make it very special,” Huber said in a statement. “It is extraordinary that such an ancient system of terrestrial-sized planets formed when the universe was just starting out, at a fifth its current age.”

Lead researcher Tiago Campante of the University of Birmingham in England noted in a statement that by now knowing close-to-Earth-size planets formed so long ago, that “could provide scope for the existence of ancient life in the galaxy.”

Campante, an asteroseismologist, measured oscillations from the star to determine the age and size of this compact system.

NASA’s Kepler planet-hunting spacecraft was used to make the observations over a four-year period. Thus, the bright sunlike star at the heart of this system is named Kepler-444. It’s in the Constellation Lyre.

The team represented scientists from Europe, Australia and the United States. Their findings were reported in the latest edition of the Astrophysical Journal.

Kepler has discovered more than 1,000 confirmed exoplanets — planets outside our solar system — and nearly 4,200 candidates since its launch in 2009 and its revitalization in last year following a breakdown in its pointing system. It reached the 1,000-mark earlier this month.

Russia says Kiev’s actions will escalate Ukraine fighting

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By Thomas Grove

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said on Wednesday military action by the Ukrainian government would prompt an “inevitable further escalation of the conflict” with pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine and undermine any peacemaking.

Russia has stepped up criticism of Kiev since violence has intensified in the conflict, where a ceasefire collapsed after rebels drove Ukrainian government forces out of Donetsk airport.

A rebel advance launched last week appears to have buried the frequently violated truce. The separatists say they want to drive back government forces and their artillery out of range of the cities they hold and improve their grip on strongholds.

“The latest military actions provoked by Kiev will lead to the inevitable further escalation of the conflict (and) undermine efforts taken by the international community to end the bloodshed,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Eduard Basurin, deputy commander of the rebels in Donetsk, said the terms of the ceasefire agreement, signed in the Belarussian capital of Minsk in September, were no longer effective.

“The form in which the Minsk agreement was signed doesn’t work anymore, but we’re prepared to continue talks,” news agency RIA reported him as saying.

Kiev and the West accuse Moscow of supporting the rebels, while the Kremlin denies sending soldiers or arms to the separatists in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk areas.

“Russia is on a path of isolation and it is driving the whole world into a state of cold war with hot conflicts,” Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said at a government meeting, calling for a united response from the international community in the face of Russian “aggression.”

With the latest outbreak of fighting, the EU has prepared a draft for its sanctions against Moscow to be extended by six months and expanding the number of targets.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said there had been 68 cases of shelling of civilian areas in the last day, including mortar bombs it said were fired by Ukrainian government forces at the rebel-held city of Luhansk and its surroundings.

Meanwhile in Kiev, the Ukrainian military said a total of 55 Ukrainian towns and villages had come under fire from the rebels over the past 24 hours.

Fighting over the last nine months has killed 5,000 people and caused more than a million people to flee.

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