NASA has set a new record with the discovery of not one but seven earth-size planets around a single star. The discovery was made by the Spitzer Space Telescope which located the planets 40 light years (235 trillion miles) from Earth. Although this is a massive distance, in space terms it is relatively close in the constellation Aquarius.
This planetary system has been named TRAPPIST-1 after the very first smaller telescope to discover the system. The star around which the seven planets orbit is an ultra cool dwarf, 12 times smaller than our sun, making it approximately the size of Jupiter. All seven of the planets could have liquid water, with three out of the seven being found in what is termed the “habitable zone”. This is the area around a star which is most likely to have liquid water.
Data from the Spitzer telescope has allowed scientists to accurately measure the sizes of the planets and gives a good idea of the masses of six of them. Based on the data collected and analysed so far, it is likely that the planets are all rocky in nature. The furthest planet is yet to be analysed but it is thought it could very well be an icy snowball!
Since the discovery, other telescopes have got in on the act to try and collect as much data as possible. The Hubble telescope has begun screening four of the planets including the three within the habitable zone for more data on their characteristics. Whilst the Keplar telescope is studying the rest of the TRAPPIST-1 system to try and search for other nearby planets. The use of the three telescopes together is helping to prepare for further studies which will be launched in 2018 with the James Webb Space telescope. This piece of kit has greater sensitivity and can give more detailed data on the planets’ atmospheres and chemical make-up.
This is the first opportunity to begin the discovery of biology beyond our solar system, helping us to answer the age old question – are we alone?
To find out more information visit: www.trappist.one
Don’t forget to come along to our Community Science Day being held at the POD in Birmingham on 18th March 2017 from 10 am til 1 pm. Tickets are free and available from Eventbrite.
To find out more information and to register visit: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/nechells-community-science-day-tickets-32601660444?aff=eac2