We are one step closer to finding life beyond Earth. On Wednesday, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration or NASA, announced they discovered a solar system with a staggering 7 Earth-like planets that are similar in size and density to our own. The findings were presented at a news conference at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
“It’s the first time that so many planets of this kind are found around the same star,” Michaël Gillon, an astronomer and the lead author of the study, told the press. “The seven planets … could have some liquid water and maybe life on the surface.”
NASA Announcement: TRAPPIST-1
The seven exoplanets orbit a dim dwarf star called TRAPPIST-1. It’s roughly the size of Jupiter in the constellation Aquarius, located just more than 39 light years from Earth.
Yahoo compares the TRAPPIST-1 worlds to Jupiter and its moons. The site says the planets orbiting the TRAPPIST-1 “all interact with one another” just like Jupiter’s Galilean moons. This means all of them influence one another’s orbits.
NASA has been studying the star for over six years now. The name Trappist 1 is actually an acronym of the Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope which has studied it the most. As the name suggests, the telescope finds planets through scanning the portion of their orbit in which they transit — or pass in front of — their star.
NASA Announcement: Earth-like Planets
According to CNN, of the seven, three planets named as TRAPPIST-1E, F and G are in the “Goldilocks zone.” This is the habitable region in the space where conditions are just right for water and possibly life to exist. Astronomers consider TRAPPIST 1F as the best candidate for supporting life.
While it’s temperature is a bit colder than our planet, NASA says it can be habitable with the right atmosphere and adequate greenhouse gasses. If you stand on the surface of one of the planets, you would receive 200 times less light than you get from the sun. Despite this, you would still receive just nearly the same energy to keep you warm given the star’s close proximity.
Meanwhile, the smallest exoplanet discovered is approximately 75 percent as big as Earth. The largest, on the other hand, is just 10 percent heavier than our planet. All seven reportedly occupy tight orbits, located much closer to TRAPPIST-1 than Mercury is to our sun. Six of the 7 worlds’ orbital periods range from 1.5 days to 12.4 days.
Where We Are Now
The latest NASA announcement has set a new record for the greatest number of habitable-zone planets found around a single star outside our solar system. As previously reported, we’ve discovered the first exoplanet around a main-sequence star in October 1995. Ever since, scientists have found 4,696 candidates, 3,449 of which are confirmed exoplanets.
While advancement in technology has led us to these discoveries, NASA shares there is no current technology yet that can get humans to the new planetary system. “That’s why we will use space-based telescopes to “remotely” investigate by observing the planets from afar,” the agency explained.
It went on to say we’ll need more tools beyond the James Webb Space Telescope, set for launch next year. That telescope may allow us to observe exoplanets but it doesn’t let us see their surfaces.
NASA suggested future technologies like starlight suppression tools called coronagraphs and starshades. These should allow scientists to observe the planets directly, getting us closer to finding places like Earth. As NASA associate administrator Thomas Zurbuchen said, “Finding another Earth-like planet isn’t a matter of if but when.”