Researchers announced on Feb. 22 the findings of seven exoplanets orbiting the dwarf star, TRAPPIST-1, from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope along with other telescopes based in Chile, Morocco and South Africa. This discovery marks the first time seven possible habitable planets have been found around the same star, offering a realistic opportunity to search for alien life outside of our solar system.
From the data collected, the conditions of the three planets closest to the star are objectively in the star’s habitable zone, meaning that the orbiting planets around the star can possess liquid water on its surface in order to support any life on the planet. The four other planets are reported to possess the right temperature in order for water to pool and flow across the planet’s surface.
This discovery has stirred up excitement towards the question of life on a planet other than the life on Earth. sophomore Ajitesh Nanda, says, “[TRAPPIST-1] should be researched for a future home, considering the state of the Earth at the moments with overpopulation and global warming.”
Senior Nicole Vanson, adds, “If life is possible there [TRAPPIST-1] I say: let’s explore!”
The exoplanets orbiting TRAPPIST-1 have a strong gravitational pull, luring the planets closer towards the center of the star. The seven planets all being of the similar size of Earth are then packed into TRAPPIST-1’s orbit all comprising of a similar gravitational pull and have years ranging in length of 1.5 to 20 Earth days. In some ways the 7 planets are very similar to our Earth’s moon, meaning that the 7 planets are tidally locked, due to a gravitational pull, into a position so close to the star that one side of the planet constantly faces the sun while the other side of the planet receives no sun at all.
Astronomers in Atacama Desert of Chile who initially studied the star, state that TRAPPIST-1 contains one-twelfth the mass of Earth’s sun and a surface temperature of 4,150 degrees Fahrenheit. The star being a small dim dwarf planet gives researchers the benefit of being able to easily study the system in comparison to a brighter star that makes it difficult to pick out the light of a planet from the glare of a
TRAPPIST-1 identifies as a common type of star in the Milky Way, called an M-dwarf. The light from the star washes over the seven orbiting planets in infrared appearing as heat. With the ability to see infrared, NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope was aimed at the star, the infrared light let out by the star would periodically dim as the orbiting planets cast shadows across the star. These shadows revealed the seven planets orbiting TRAPPIST-1.
Although the new finding is very thrilling, Biology and Anatomy teacher Samantha Belvini states, “It’s not feasible right now. They estimate that if they want to send something, not people, but probes to the planets, it would take 800,000 years.”
In terms of what actions will be taken to discover more about the seven planets orbiting TRAPPIST-1, telescopes such as the Hubble Space Telescope will be able to identify some of the molecules in the planetary atmospheres leading to the possibility of life in the TRAPPIST-1 system.
Along with the Hubble Space Telescope, the James Webb Telescope, scheduled to launch this year, will take a look at infrared wavelengths of light that are the absolute means to discern any signs of life on the TRAPPIST-1 system.