NASA has found a system of seven habitable Earth-size planets around one star. The system has been named TRAPPIST-1 and is located 40 light years away from us.
The planets are located in the habitable zone. This would mean that all of the planets, or at least three of them, contain water but further research is needed to confirm this.
“This discovery could be a significant piece in the puzzle of finding habitable environments, places that are conducive to life,” explained Thomas Zurbuchen, an associate administrator of the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Answering the question ‘are we alone’ is a top science priority and finding so many planets like these for the first time in the habitable zone is a remarkable step forward toward that goal.”
The name for the exoplanet system is in honor of The Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST) in Chile. The telescope allowed the discovery of the system. The findings have been supported by the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope and NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope.
In the journal Nature, the scientists say that the planets could be rocky. However, the mass of the seventh and farthest planet is still unknown. Experts also believe that the planet could be icy. The star of this system is an ultra-cool dwarf. This kind of star allows water on very nearby planets to survive.
Further observations reveal that the distance of the exoplanets to their star is shorter than Mercury is to our sun. Additionally, the planets are closer to one another, which indicate that if you get to stand on the surface of one of the planets, you could easily the geological features or clouds of the neighbor planet. At times, this would even appear bigger than the moon we see in the sky.
However, the planets are tidally locked to their star. This means that one side of the planets always face towards the star and the other is not, causing permanent day and night. This results to the TRAPPIST-1 exoplanets having different weather patterns than Earth. Each planet could experience strong winds and extreme temperature changes.
According to Nikole Lewis, the TRAPPIST-1 system offers experts a great opportunity to study the atmospheres of exoplanets that have the same size as Earth. Follow-up studies of the system would also involve the new James Webb Space Telescope, which will help determine the chemical component of each planet.