Have you ever stared into the deep dark sky at night and wondered if there was another world out there? Many of us have done just that, which is probably why science fiction movies like “Star Wars” are so popular.
The dream of finding inhabitable planets in a solar system far, far away is actually becoming a reality. NASA this week made a huge announcement about the discovery of a collection of exoplanets.
What was NASA’s big announcement?
NASA has discovered the first known system of seven Earth-sized planets around a single star. Of those seven planets, three of them are located in the habitable zone. This is the area around the parent star where it is most likely to have liquid water.
Scientists said all of the newly found planets are capable of having liquid water on them, which is crucial to maintaining life as we know it. But water would most likely be found on the three planets in the prime location.
This system is about 40 light-years from Earth, which is nearly 235 trillion miles. It is located in the constellation Aquarius. The planets are exoplanets, meaning they are outside of our solar system.
The exoplanet system is being called TRAPPIST-1, named for The Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST) in Chile. Researchers there first discovered three planets in the system last year.
NASA scientists used the Spitzer Space Telescope to measure each planet’s size and develop estimates of the masses of six of them. The farthest planet has yet to be measured.
The TRAPPIST-1 star is being classified as an “ultra-cool dwarf,” meaning it’s cool enough that liquid water could survive on the orbiting planets. This is relevant because the planets are orbiting the star at a much closer proximity than the Earth is orbiting the sun.
Scientist Nikole Lewis said, “The TRAPPIST-1 system provides one of the best opportunities in the next decade to study atmospheres around Earth-sized planets.” Astronomers will be conducting follow-up studies on NASA’s discovery beginning this fall. It’s exciting to think about what they might find.