Seven Potentially Habitable Earth-sized  Planets Spied Around Tiny Nearby Star

Astronomers announced today the discovery of an extraordinary
planetary system: seven Earth-sized planets that could all have liquid
water on their rocky surfaces.

by Daniel Clery

The planets circle a tiny, dim, nearby
star in tight orbits all less than 2 weeks long. Although it isn’t
possible today to say whether the planets harbor life, astronomers are
excited because each planet’s orbit passes in front of—or “transits”—its
parent star.

What’s more, the system’s proximity to Earth means that
answers to questions about whether the system is habitable may come in
just a few years’ time with the launch of a powerful new space

“If we are to find a biosignature, it may be in this kind of system,”
says astrophysicist Nikku Madhusudhan of the Institute of Astronomy in
Cambridge, U.K., who was not involved in the study. “In terms of
transiting planets, this is as close to the holy grail as we’ve ever

Team member Didier Queloz of the University of Cambridge says
that the system, known as TRAPPIST-1, will be “a major driver of the
question of whether there is life in the universe.” Says Thomas Henning,
director of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg,
Germany: “Imagine a solar system with seven planets like our own, it’s
just amazing…”

Many exoplanets searches have focused on sunlike stars in the hopes of
finding an analog to our own solar system—unsurprising because it is the
one system known to foster life. But the team behind the Belgium-led
TRAPPIST project (Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope)
took a different tack:

They looked for planets that transit in front of
dim, dwarf stars, by far the most numerous type of star in the Milky
Way. Starting in 2010 with a 0.6-meter robotic telescope at the European
Southern Observatory’s (ESO’s) La Silla Observatory in Chile, they
quickly came across the star that came to be known as TRAPPIST-1…


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