NASA has released major news regarding the new exoplanets they have discovered. For those of you who have not followed the recent developments behind exoplanets, it is quite easy to understand. They are simply planets orbiting stars outside our solar system which has been part of NASA’s agenda for a number of years now. There were discoveries here and there in the 1990’s which then lead to a large increase in the 2000’s before the number of new planets being found skyrocketed in the 2010’s. Each new discovery brings both hope for a new habitable planet and the fear of finding another gas giant which we can’t live on. What NASA has found is radically different. On February 22, 2017 they announced in a live press release that the discovery was of 7 Earth-sized exoplanets orbiting the star TRAPPIST-1, 39 light years away (or roughly 1,233,201 trips from the Earth to the Sun and back). The important part was that they had also discovered 3 planets within the habitable zone of this star (where biological life can exist on a planet around its star). This fulfills two points of criteria for scientists desperately looking for alien life: Earth-sized and habitable zone.
Here is a list of interesting points about the discovery:
- TRAPPIST-1 joins the stars HR 8832, Kepler-90 and HD 10180 containing 7 planets in orbit around itself, with only our sun containing 8, the most ever recorded (however it’s possible that HD 10180 has the most at 9 but it’s unconfirmed as of right now).
- The star is what is called an ultra-cool dwarf, it is much smaller than our sun and it is just above a brown dwarf with a very low mass, almost not being a star. It is not however a well-researched field and its members have a variety of different dimensions. They are not however uncommon and plenty exist in our galaxy.
- Its category is believed to host a larger number of planets in the range from Mercury to Earth which this research would seem to vindicate.
- It gets its name from a Belgian telescope operated out of Chile, the Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope–South (TRAPPIST).
- This has been the largest number of earth like planets found around a star to date
- These planets are much closer to their star with much shorter orbital periods due to its size. One of them orbits the star in the same time
- None of them were observed to have any moons
- This discovery was made in 2015 and the paper was then published in 2016 but only 3 of the 7 planets were discovered then.
- They also used the Very Large Telescope and the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope to aid in this discovery.
- To be specific, compared to our sun, this star is 8% of its mass, 11% of its radius, less than half as hot and about 4 billion years younger.
- The orbits of the planets range from under two days to about 20. That’s the time a planet spends moving around its star. Could you imagine a 20 day year?
- Interestingly if you were on one of the planets you could see the rest and some of them would be quite large.
Breakthrough Starshot was mentioned in the interview and I will include the link below for you to look up. In general, it’s a mission to launch 1,000 satellites at our nearest star in order to study it as well as possibly photograph one of its planets, which would be a major scientific achievement. I’ll make a second article on the specifics of the habitable planets around the TRAPPIST-1 star next. It is quite an exciting prospect for the future of exoplanet discovery and study that these planets have been found as close as they are to us.
This online article features picture galleries as well as video tours.
This is the live-stream of the announcement. I recommend you watch it as it carefully explains each aspect of this discovery:
It is specifically mentioned in the second paragraph on the third line.