One of the more enduring qualities of mankind is the never ending thirst for discovery. It started with mapping out the land in which we lived and then shifted to the interest of conquering the seas. Once that was achieved, it was only natural that our gaze turned inward and of course, upward.
We often wondered if there was another planet like ours in the vastness of space. As of February of 2017, we got not one–not two—but SEVEN answers to this long standing question.
NASA had announced that they found seven potentially Earth-like planets orbiting a star 40 light-years away. This is certainly the first time such a discovery has been made and it has raised hopes that we’ll eventually find alien life.
The seven planets seem to be closely orbiting a dwarf star named Trappist-1. The dim star is slightly larger than Jupiter and shines with a feeble light that’s 2000 times fainter than our own Sun. The distance in which the seven planets orbit the star is comparable to Jupiter’s moons. They are measured to be near the size of our planet–some varying at around 10% or 20% smaller or larger.
Three of the new planets all live within the habitable zone near their source of heat and light. The conditions on planets so close to dwarf stars, which are known to release fierce bursts of x-rays and ultraviolet light, might not be the most conducive for life. But when the sun goes out in a few billion years, Trappist-1 will still be an infant star. It burns hydrogen so slowly that it will last another 10 trillion years, Snellen writes in an accompanying Nature article. That is more than 700 times longer than the universe has existed, so there is plenty of time yet for life to evolve.
The fact that Trappist-1 wasn’t as bright as our own Sun led to the discovery of the seven new planets. Since their discovery, our scientists have been busy trying to get more substantial data regarding the various atmospheres of the different planets. While initial hypothesis alleged that three of the planets may have water exist on their surface. There is also a possibility that the other four planets may also hold water. This will depend largely upon their atmosphere. So it’s a pretty good opportunity to conduct atmospheric studies.
It presents a good chance to do comparative studies between our own atmosphere and the chemical composition of exoplanet atmospheres. If any of the seven planets contain gases like ozone, oxygen, or methane–there’s a good chance of it holding or even hosting life.
Another pretty exciting thing about this discovery is that dwarf stars like Trappist-1 are pretty common in the galaxy. So, scientifically speaking, there’s a huge leap in the probability of finding other exoplanet discoveries and maybe we’ll be able to find another planet much like our own.
With the new discovery of these seven planets, the chances of finding another Earth-like planet is no longer a matter of if but of when.