TRAPPIST-1 and the Seven Planets: We’re Not Alone

March 1, 2017
Image via NASA

NASA made a huge discovery — or seven of them, to be exact! This is big news in the search for extraterrestrial life, and the first time that this many planets have been spotted at the same time. In fact, scientists observing the solar system originally thought there were just three planets circling TRAPPIST-1 (a red dwarf star that’s about 40 light years away). Then they noticed a change in brightness around TRAPPIST-1d, the 4th planet from its sun. They took a second look from a ground-based telescope called the Very Large Telescope (that’s what it’s actually called!) and also used NASA’s ‘Spitzer’ telescope in space and realized there were actually three planets all orbiting (or moving around the sun) at the same time!

Though scientists call these seven planets “Earthlike,” for their shape, size, and distance from their sun, there’s still a lot left to discover when it comes to finding out if they can support life. Scientists need to figure out if they have certain “biosignatures” — or elements that make it livable — such as oxygen, carbon dyoxide, methane, and other elements found here on Earth.

These planets are all about the same size as planet Earth. And while 40 light years might sound far away, it’s actually pretty close when it comes to studying them via telescope. Consider that the Milky Way (aka “home”) is 100,000 light years across! Regardless of the findings, we’re sure to expect more stellar developments from TRAPPIST-1 in years to come.