TRAPPIST-1: The Discovery
One week ago, astronomers from NASA and Europe made a groundbreaking discovery. This discovery will forever alter the way that we view space and time.
Last Wednesday, NASA announced the discovery of seven Earth sized planets orbiting a dwarf star named TRAPPIST-1. The system of exoplanets is only 39.5 light years away. Given the vastness of the universe, this is a relatively short distance.
The TRAPPIST-1 discovery is historical because it’s the first known instance of a system of seven Earth sized planets revolving around a single star other than our very own system. The Spitzer Space Telescope, which is currently over 235 million kilometers away from Earth, discovered the planets. Because of the orientation of the planets and their star, scientists are able to effectively observe the characteristics of TRAPPIST-1.
Why it’s so exciting?
Again, this discovery is absolutely groundbreaking because it is the first of its kind. According to scientist, what’s particularly exciting about this finding is the planets have the potential to form and hold water. Even more exciting, this finding means they have the potential to host life!
The star that the seven planets orbit is a red dwarf, meaning it’s ‘ultracool’, or under 2,550 kelvin. This makes it significantly cooler than our own sun, which is about 5,778 kelvin. Because of the stars cool nature and the placement of the planets, the possibility of the closer planets retaining liquid water is strong.
The TRAPPIST-1 discovery is raising a lot of speculation and excitement about the possibility of life outside Earth.
Sara Seager, an astrophysicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, reported to the New York Times, “For the first time ever, we don’t have to speculate. We just have to wait and then make very careful observations and see what is in the atmospheres of the Trappist planets.”
Is there life outside of our planet? Only time will tell!
This discovery opens the door to so many questions! Is there water? How could we tell if there is life? The possibilities are endless!
Currently, NASA reports that the geography of the planets is rocky. Scientists will continue to observe the exoplanets in order to deduce if liquid water actually exists on the planets.
NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope will begin to screen at least four of the planets in order to determine the atmospheric composition of the planets and learn if they consist of hydrogen.
In 2018, NASA’s James Webb Telescope will further assist scientists in exploring the makeup of these planets. This telescope will have technology that can enable scientists to determine properties of the planets including the presence of water, methane, and oxygen!
Dear TRAPPIST-1, Earth welcomes you!