NASA revealed on Wednesday (February 22, 2017) they found seven earth-sized planets orbiting the same star in the Aquarius system, only 40 light-years away from us.
Of the seven exoplanets, three are within the so-called Goldilocks zone, meaning they could potentially have the conditions to sustain life.
The seven planets orbit a dwarf star system called TRAPPIST-1, and they are all estimated to be rocky planets, not gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn. The three planets within the habitable zone are being referred to as TRAPPIST-1e, f, and g, and they all could have oceans on their surfaces.
Dwarf stars have relatively low luminosity and size. There are many kinds of dwarf stars - for comparison, our very own sun, which consists of 99.86% the mass of the entire solar system, is a yellow dwarf. (Oxford Academic)
It was originally revealed in May of 2016 that there were three planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system, but further observation added the discovery of five other planets.
The system being 40 light-years away means it would take 40 years to reach it traveling at the speed of light. For the sake of comparison, that’s 229 trillion miles or 369 trillion kilometers.
It’s physically impossible to travel at the speed of light and no human vehicle has gotten close to such speed - our current fastest spacecraft, the New Horizons, would take roughly 870,000 years to reach the system.
Stephen Hawking’s dream project, the Breakthrough Starshot probes, could reach the planet in just 200 years, but the concept still needs much more study and testing before it’s considered possible - not to mention the probes aren’t meant to carry humans.
Despite being too far to reach, astronomers are excited is because 40 light-years is very close for observational purposes - it’s the closest system similar to ours ever found, and having seven rocky planets with three potentially habitable planets to study was an astronomical jackpot.
The planets orbits are so close to each other you could see the neighbor planet’s ground features with the naked eye, were it possible to stand there. And similar to our moon, the 3 planets closest to the sun are speculated to be tidally locked - meaning one side is always facing the same way. On these planets, one side is always day, and the other, always night.
The research from now on will focus on solving the current mysteries with more careful observation and using the results to solve bigger mysteries regarding our own solar system.
The biggest question is that if one of the planets currently inhabits primitive life. With more study and closer observation, we may have an answer sooner than later.
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