If the current state of the world has you wanting to leave planet Earth in search of a new home, your wish just got a little closer to coming true. NASA, working in cooperation with the telescopes at the European Southern Observatory, just revealed that they’ve found a nearby planetary system housing seven Earth-like planets!
Density measurements indicate that at least six of the planets are rocky worlds like our own, and at least three of the planets are within their star’s habitable zone--meaning liquid water could exist on them, much like on Earth. And, as you may or may not know, liquid water on any planet makes the possibility of life go way up. The other four planets may not have liquid water on them, but researchers believe that they might.
“This is an amazing planetary system — not only because we have found so many planets, but because they are all surprisingly similar in size to the Earth!” says Michaël Gillon, lead author of the findings.
Perhaps even cooler is the dwarf star sitting at the center of this new solar system. TRAPPIST-1 is the name of the star (and planetary system) and researchers say that its energy levels are much weaker than that of our own Sun’s, meaning the planets are actually closer to it than Earth is to the sun.
“The energy output from dwarf stars like TRAPPIST-1 is much weaker than that of our Sun. Planets would need to be in far closer orbits than we see in the Solar System if there is to be surface water. Fortunately, it seems that this kind of compact configuration is just what we see around TRAPPIST-1,” says co-author, Amauray Triaud.
Can you imagine being closer to the sun? If we were to live on one of these other Earth-like planets, the sun would appear much bigger in the sky.
So, what now?
You’re probably wondering just how far away this amazing new solar system is and when will we get there. It sits about 40 light-years away from Earth. So, while it is pretty much next door to us on the cosmic level, it’s still hundreds of millions of years away on a practical level. Until technology advances to the point of us being able to travel through space at fast enough speeds, it will be difficult to reach these new planets.
However, the discovery should not be downplayed because of that. Not only is it one of the closest planetary systems featuring Earth-like planets ever found, but the fact that at least three of these planets are within the habitable zone means there is a good chance that we are not alone in the universe.
TRAPPIST-1 will continue to be of significance for further research and study as scientists and researchers begin to more thoroughly examine this new planetary system and its potential for life. Not to mention, with the next era of telescopes, we will undoubtedly be able to learn more about them. The Hubble Space Telescope already has its attention on TRAPPIST-1 and Emmanuël Jehin, a scientist who was part of the team who made the discovery, says that our new telescopes will help us even more:
“With the upcoming generation of telescopes, such as ESO’s European Extremely Large Telescope and the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope, we will soon be able to search for water and perhaps even evidence of life on these worlds.”
How exciting is this?!
You can check out the website for TRAPPIST-1 that is maintained by the discovery team here, see more pictures of the new system here, and even read questions that the discovery team answered on Reddit here!