It’s something the likes of which astronomers have never seen: seven Earth-sized worlds orbiting a nearby star. And all of them may be capable of supporting life as we know it.
It all began when scientists spotted regular dimming events on the star, which the team at University of Liège in Belgium interpreted as evidence of three different planets crossing the star’s face. But after further study they discovered that not only the three suspected planets were in fact there, but there were also four others…and all Earth-sized.
The smallest of these worlds is about 75 percent as massive as Earth, while the largest is just 10 percent the mass of our planet.
“This is the first time that so many planets of this kind are found around the same star,”said Michaël Gillon, lead investigator at the University of Liège.
What we know:
It’s believed that since these planets are so close to their star they are tidally locked, much like how our moon is tidally locked to Earth–why we only see one side of it. Though more data is needed, recent modeling shows that three of the worlds reside in the habitable zone; however, all seven could still support water.
Astronomers have discovered other seven-planet systems before, but never anything like this.
A closer look:
Other researchers are already using the Hubble Space Telescope to hunt for atmospheres on the TRAPPIST-1 planets. Kepler is also observing the system and will gather data that can better pin down the planetary masses, says Courtney Dressing, an astronomer at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. And the TRAPPIST team is building four new 1-metre-diameter telescopes in Chile to continue the work.
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