Astronomers discover 7 Earth-like planets orbiting nearby star

The TRAPPIST-1 star, an ultra-cool dwarf, has seven Earth-size planets orbiting it. This artist’s concept appeared on the cover of the journal Nature on Feb. 23, 2017.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Washington– At least seven Earth-like planets orbiting the same star 40 light-years away and each may contain liquid water and be able to sustain life, astronomers announced at a news conference at NASA Headquarters here.

A Belgian-led team was able to spy these planets using space and ground-based telescopes as they passed in front of their host, a red dwarf star known as TRAPPIST-1, NBC News reported.

“This is an amazing planetary system, not only because we have found so many planets, but because they are all surprisingly similar in size to Earth,” said Michaël Gillon, astronomer from the University of Liège in Belgium and lead author of the paper about the discovery published in the journal Nature.

All seven planets that surround TRAPPIST-1 – which has only about 8 per cent the mass of sun – orbit more tightly to their host than any of the planets in our system are to the sun.

This illustration shows the possible surface of TRAPPIST-1f, one of the newly discovered planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system. Scientists using the Spitzer Space Telescope and ground-based telescopes have discovered that there are seven Earth-size planets in the system.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The inner six exoplanets are in such tight orbit that they have temperatures comparable to those on Earth, Mercury, and Venus, astronomers said.

The scientists observations suggest the inner six exoplanets also have a rocky makeup with icy surfaces and atmospheres, and that a such a tightly-wound configuration is necessary for there to be surface water that could sustain life on these exoplanets.

This artist’s concept shows what each of the TRAPPIST-1 planets may look like, based on available data about their sizes, masses and orbital distances.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

This poster imagines what a trip to TRAPPIST-1e might be like.
Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The researchers are also searching for similar star systems to conduct more atmospheric research. Four telescopes named SPECULOOS (Search for habitable Planets EClipsing ULtra-cOOl Stars) based in Chile will survey the southern sky for this purpose, CNN reported.

“This star system will probably outlive us because this type of star evolves slowly. When our sun dies, TRAPPIST-1 will still be a young star and will live for another trillion years,” Gillon said.

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