Last week NASA announced the discovery of a cluster of Earth sized planets found by the Spitzer Space telescope around the Red Dwarf star Trappist-1. This new discovery is the largest cluster of Earth sized planets found in a single system, with seven in total.
The announcement came after the information was published in the journal Nature and announced at a NASA briefing Feb. 22 in Washington, D.C. The planets were discovered around the red-dwarf star designated Trappist-1. Compared to our sun, Trappist-1 is a dim star that allows the closely orbiting planets to have liquid water, and possibly allow for life to flourish.
While scientists have just started studying these planets, some theories have already been made about this solar system and the composition of the planets. Their densities have been approximated, and six of the planets are thought to be solid and rocky. These specific planets also have the right density for the presence of liquid water, and are expected to have suitable conditions to potentially harbor life.
These observations predict these planets exist within the habitable zone of Trappist-1. The habitable zone is a region of a solar system in which atmospheres preferable to earth-like life are possible. Of the seven, these three planets would be most likely to contain life. While we are still trying to understand these planets, NASA has already announced some particularly interesting theories.
For example, the planets’ tight orbits around their star have probably caused the planets to be tidally locked with their star, meaning each completes one rotation on its axis per revolution around its star. In this case, one side of the planet would be stuck forever in day and the other half in night, causing weather patterns very different from those on Earth.
The planets’ close location to one another means that an observer on one would be able to see geological features in close detail on another. These planets would be larger in view than the moon in the night sky on Earth.
Of course, research is just beginning and scientists do not yet know much about these planets. Observations have only really been able to estimate density and their location in relationship to their star. With further research, NASA will have preliminary theories about these planets’ atmospheres which could better pinpoint sources for potential life.
NASA states that the James Webb Space Telescope, set to launch in October 2018, will allow clearer observations and eventually more information about this solar system. To some, this discovery offers up the possible question of future human colonization on some of these planets.
While the planets are only 40 light years away, making them some of the closest exoplanets, humans are not expected to be able to travel this distance at any point in the forseeable future. The possibility for us to colonize other planets would not only open our civilization to the stars but could also alleviate various issues that come with our growing population, such as growing crops, over dense cities and pollution. It will be some time, on the order of decades or centuries, before we have the ability to send any piece of technology is to these planets, let alone humans. Still, the discovery of so many planets that could host life is just another stop for humans as they make their journey through the universe.