NASA has discovered the first system consisting of seven Earth-sized planets around a single star. The system has been named TRAPPIST-1. The
Spitzer Space Telescope located three of the planets around the parent star where a rocky planet is most likely to have liquid water and the potential to sustain life. If the planets do possess the conditions for live, the discovery of a habitable planet other than Earth is closer than ever.
According to nasa.gov, Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator of the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, said, “This discovery could be a significant piece in the puzzle of finding habitable environments, places that are conducive to life.”
The system of planets is about forty light-years from Earth. Using multiple telescopes including the Spitzer, three planets were first discovered in May of 2016, followed by the discovery of five other planets. Using estimations, NASA was able to measure the density of the seven planets. The NASA researchers found that all of the planets are likely to be rocky and are able to contain water. The TRAPPIST-1 star is cool enough to maintain liquids on the planets orbiting very closely. The planets are also close to each other and tidally locked to their star. This means the same side of the planet is always facing the star, so that one side of the planet is in perpetual daytime, while the other is in a perpetual night — which could mean extreme weather conditions and abnormal patterns in the atmosphere.
“I think we’ve made a crucial step towards finding if there is life out there,” said Amaury Triaud, one of the study authors and an astronomer at the University of Cambridge, in an interview with CNN. “I don’t think any time before we had the right planets to discover and find out if there was (life). Here, if life managed to thrive and releases gases similar to what we have on Earth, we will know.”
The Spitzer Telescope was able to see the star’s glow, in which the wavelengths are longer than the eye can see. The Spitzer kept track of TRAPPIST-1 for more than five hundred hours as it observed the transits of the planets to map out this new solar system.
Jay Kim, a student at Fairfax High School, told JSR, “Seven new planets? Get me a spaceship because I’m about to go and explore. Human technology has advanced so much that we are able to even think about life on a new planet. That’s lowkey amazing on so many different levels.”
NASA is beginning to screen four of the seven planets, which include the three potentially habitable planets. By doing this, more information is hoped to be obtained including the chemical presence in the atmospheres.