Not So Lonely After All

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NASA officials hosted a press conference February 21 about its discovery of seven planets in one solar system, called Trappist-1, that have a strong possibility of hosting life. Three of these planets are the right distance from their local sun to have liquid water.

“The discovery gives us a hint that finding a second Earth is not just a matter of if, but when,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters.

All Trappist-1 planets are earth-shaped and orbit around a sun, Trappist-1a, which is several times smaller and cooler than Earth’s sun. If a planet is too close to its star, it will be too hot to host life, and if it is too far, the possible water on a planet will be frozen. The habitable area is known as the Goldilocks Zone.

The Trappist-1 planets are probably tidally locked, meaning the same face of the planets face Trappist-1a, similar to how the moon faces Earth. With these differences, the planets are still excellent contenders for currently hosting organic life.

The Spitzer Space Telescope, which confirmed the initial discovery of two planets, discovered the five other new planets. The telescope was never intended to be used to discover other planets outside of our solar system.

“Before this, if you wanted to study terrestrial planets, we had only four of them and they were all in our solar system,” said lead author Michaël Gillon. He is a scientist at the University of Liège in Belgium. “Now we have seven Earth-sized planets to expand our understanding.”

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