Scientists Discover Seven New Planets

Anna B., Staff Writer

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Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia

Scientists around the world are rejoicing the discovery of seven rocky, Earth-sized planets orbiting an ultra-cool dwarf star not too far from our solar system.

This system is referred to as TRAPPIST-1, after the Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST) in Chile.

Scientists in Chile announced the discovery of three planets, and with the assistance of several larger telescopes, confirmed the existence of two of them plus five additional planets.

The NASA team used Spitzer data to accurately measure the sizes of all seven planets and were able to measure the masses of all except the farthest, which is estimated to be “an icy, snowball-like world,” according to NASA scientists.

The system is around 40 light years away–about 235,160,000,000,000 miles.

Every planet in the system is closer to the host star than Mercury is to our sun, but because of the incredibly low heat, liquid water could possibly exist on the closest planet.

The TRAPPIST-1 star, with an estimated magnitude of 18.8, is just a bit bigger than Jupiter.

The planets’ orbits around their star vary from one and a half days to twenty, while the planets’ orbits in our system go from three months to two hundred forty-eight years.

Five of the planets (b, c, e, f, and g) are about the size of Earth while the other two (d and h) are closer to the size of Mars.

E, f, and g are in the habitable area of the system. B, c, and d are likely to be very hot, while h is likely very cold.

H is the only planet whose mass has not been calculated. It orbits the farthest from TRAPPIST-1 and is the second smallest after d.

Some Westminster students are pretty excited about the discovery. “I feel like it’s a really cool opening to a possible future,” said eighth grade boy Jack S.

Over the next year, scientists will be analyzing each planet for signs of possible life.

“The chance that we are the only ones in this universe is very slim,” said eighth grade science teacher Leah Roberts.

However, there is the issue of the TRAPPIST-1 star itself. Scientists say that it normally takes red dwarfs about a billion years to adjust to the conditions humans need. The new star is only about 500 million years old.

The young star’s dangerous ultra-violet releases and x-rays could potentially deprive its surrounding planets’ atmospheres of oxygen, and possibly their atmospheres all together.

But these rays could also be helpful; they could eliminate harmful gases like hydrogen and make the planets habitable.

And even if the planets are perfect for us, they’re forty light years away. Even at the speed of the Voyager 1 space probe, it would take seven thousand years to make the trip.

Despite the chance of the planets having hazardous environments and the seven-thousand-year journey, scientists still have their hopes up.

As NASA continues to investigate the TRAPPIST-1 system, the possibility of living there might not seem so far-fetched.

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia

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