For as long as mankind has been capable of seeing the stars, we have wondered if there can be life on other planets. While that has yet to be confirmed, scientists are constantly discovering new planets that have the potential to play host to life of some description, with some of the most recent discoveries being made by the NASA in 2017.
The TRAPPIST-1 star may already be a familiar name to you, as the discovery of three planets in its orbit was made in May 2016. However, since then, further examination has found that there are a total of seven planets orbiting this ultra-cool dwarf star.
The announcement, which was made in late-February of 2017, stated that the small solar system, which is located 40 light-years away from Earth, is exceptionally rare because each of the seven planets is rocky, rather than being gaseous like Saturn or Jupiter. Furthermore, of the seven, three fall within what NASA calculates to be the habitable zone of the star, meaning there is potential for all three to play host to oceans and even life.
Further, the planets all have similar sizes to Earth and are considered temperate, making it even more possible that life has been able to form on their surfaces.
According to Michaël Gillon, who is an astronomer at the University of Liège in Belgium and
the study’s lead author: “This is the first time that so many planets of this kind are found around the same star”.
This thought process was expanded on by Amaury Triaud, another one of the study’s authors, who added: “I don’t think any time before we had the right planets to discover and find out if there was (life). Here, if life managed to thrive and releases gases similar to what we have on Earth, we will know.”
So What Do We Know
Right now, of the three planets that are believed to be capable of supporting life – TRAPPIST-1e, f and g – TRAPPIST-f is believed to be the most likely, based on its location and temperature. Though a little cooler than Earth, it is believed that the right combination of gases, coupled with the correct atmosphere, would make it a viable candidate.
Interestingly, because of the tight orbit to the star, the nearest planet to TRAPPIST has an orbit that one and a half Earth days. TRAPPIST itself is only slightly larger than Jupiter, which should give you a better idea of the general scale. TRAPPIST-f takes less than 10 days to complete a full circuit. Even so, Due to the size and coolness of the star, even the planets that are closest to it aren’t as hot as Mercury or Venus.
Further, the tightness of this particular solar system would also make for some amazing views. Other planets would appear in the night sky, looking approximately the same size as the Moon. Further, TRAPPIST’s light is much weaker than the sun’s, meaning any life on these planets would be exposed to less light, but should still receive a similar amount of heat energy.
A final interesting insight is that the planets closest to the star are likely so tightly locked into orbit that they don’t rotate as they go around the star. This means that one side of the planet constantly experiences day time, whereas the other is in constant night.