Cool facts about 7 Earth-size planets circling single star

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Talk about an Earth-shattering discovery.

Scientists have spotted seven Earth-size planets around a nearby star, some or all of which could harbor water and possibly life. That's the biggest cluster of planets like this yet to be found.

Here's a quick look:

AGE OF AQUARIUS

This star system is less than 40 light-years from Earth, or 235 trillion miles away, in the constellation Aquarius. At the hub is a small, faint star known as Trappist-1. Seven planets circle Trappist-1, with orbits ranging from 1 ½ to 20 days. If Trappist-1 were our sun, all these planets would fit inside the orbit of Mercury. That's how close they are to their star and why their orbits are so short. The planets have no real names. They're only known by letters, "b'' through "h." The letter "A" refers to the star itself.

___

GOLDILOCKS ZONE

Three of the planets are smack dab in the so-called habitable zone, also known as the Goldilocks zone, where conditions are just right for water and life to flourish — not too much and not too little stellar energy. The four other planets are tantalizingly close to the Goldilocks zone— so close that they, too, could harbor water and potentially life. But just because a planet is in this sweet spot, doesn't mean life exists or ever did. If aliens were observing our solar system from the Trappist-1 network, they might be saying, "Hey, there are three habitable planets there, Venus, Earth and Mars," said Sara Seager, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology astrophysicist who did not take part in the study. The point is, "let's wait and see what's out there," she cautioned.

___

HOW'S THE VIEW?

Trappist-1, one of numerous ultracool dwarf stars out there in the galaxy, glows red. If you were to stand on one of the planets, the star might appear to be salmon-colored. Its planets are clumped so closely together, they would appear twice as big as our moon in the sky. The temperature could be pretty similar to Earth as well, at least on one of these planets.

___

NOW WHAT?

Scientists need to study the atmospheres of these almost assuredly rocky planets before jumping to any conclusions about water and life. The Hubble Space Telescope already is on the case. The still-under-construction James Webb Space Telescope will join in once it's launched next year. The Webb will search for gases that might be a byproduct of life: oxygen, ozone and methane. Scientists say it should take five years to get a handle on all these atmospheres, and figure out whether water — and maybe life — are present. Altogether, astronomers have confirmed close to 3,600 planets outside our solar system since the 1990s, but barely four dozen are in the potential habitable zone of their stars, and of those, just 18 are approximately the size of Earth.

Related News

Ancient Karkemish sees modern war on Turkey-Syria border

Sep 7, 2016

The ancient city of Karkemish, which sits between Turkey and Syria, witnessed modern conflict when Turkey sent troops across the border in the same area last month

The Latest: Hotly contested Pinelands pipeline approved

Feb 24, 2017

New Jersey regulators have approved a measure allowing a natural gas pipeline to run through the federally protected Pinelands preserve

Scientists find 3.7 billion-year-old fossil, oldest yet

Aug 31, 2016

Scientists have found what they think is the oldest fossil on Earth, a remnant of life from 3.7 billion years ago when Earth's skies were orange and its oceans green

You may also like these

Indonesia steps up fire response as haze blankets Singapore

Aug 26, 2016

Six Indonesian provinces have declared states of emergency as forest fires blanket a swath of Southeast Asia in a smoky haze

Film about 1960s black mathematicians tops MLK weekend

Jan 18, 2017

"Hidden Figures," the film about African-American mathematicians at NASA during the 1960s space race, led the North American box office for the second straight week, selling $27.5 million in tickets over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend

ACT scores show many grads not ready for college-level work

Aug 24, 2016

The latest scores from the ACT college entrance exam suggest many of this year's high school graduates aren't ready for college-level course work

Search

Recent Discovery will take you to the captivating developments in science, technology, and the universe around us. We deliver to you the latest news, theories, and developments in the world of science.

Contact us: sales@recentdiscovery.com

Trending News

ScienceAgricultural ScienceArchaeologyAstronomy Press