What exists beyond what we can see? Past that? Even farther beyond? Are we totally alone? Or are there worlds just like ours that lie far away? Will we ever find them?
Since the beginning of time, humanity has questioned its inherent place in relation to existence as a whole. Where does it start? Where does it end? Is there life out there?
In what is possibly the most exciting scientific breakthrough of our lifetime, NASA is finding answers to these questions.
In a press conference yesterday, NASA confirmed the existence of a “sister solar system” much like our own. We are still in the very early stages of discovery, but here is what we know so far:
1. This alternate solar system consists of seven planets orbiting a star. It appears to be structured much like our own solar system.
2. The inner six planets are made of rock, and could potentially host liquid water – possibly even whole oceans like our own.
3. The temperatures of at least three of these planets range from 0 to 100°C, or 32 to 212°F.
4. These planets may be capable of hosting extraterrestrial life.
5. TRAPPIST-1 is a younger star than our sun, and will likely enjoy more longevity.
6. The inner six planets have masses similar to that of the earth. Little is known regarding the outermost planet.
7. These planets orbit TRAPPIST-1, a dwarf star approximately 39 light-years from our sun.
8. TRAPPIST-1 is located in the Aquarius constellation, making this news extra exciting for people who share this zodiac sign.
9. The first three planets were discovered by Michaël Gillon from the University of Liège in Belgium and his team of astronomers in May of last year. They found them through the use of earth-based telescopes.
10. The remaining four planets were found upon closer inspection using NASA’s Spitzer space telescope.
11. TRAPPIST-1 itself is only slightly larger than Jupiter. Its seven orbital planets surround it at roughly the distance of Jupiter’s moons.
12. The outermost planet remains a bit of a mystery. It has only been seen orbiting TRAPPIST-1 once, and its relationship to the other planets is still unknown.
13. It is currently unknown whether any of these planets have moons.
14. Due to the distance between our solar systems, we do not yet know for sure if any of these planets host water or extraterrestrial life. However, it remains a strong possibility.
15. The closest planet takes only 1.5 days to orbit TRAPPIST-1. The farthest (of the six whose orbits are currently understood) takes 13 days.
16. Because these planets are so close to one another, it is possible that they may share a biosphere.
17. The interactions between planets in this solar system may be more significant than our own, due to their close proximity to one another.
18. When the European Space Organization’s Extremely Large Telescope goes live in 2024, it will likely be able to determine the presence of water on these planets from right here on Earth.
Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, addressed this news in a live conference yesterday. “For the first time we’ve found this many terrestrial planets around a single star,” he explained excitedly. “The discovery gives us a hint that finding a second Earth is not just a matter of if, but when.”