The News From TRAPPIST-1!

Hey, everyone! Look what happens. I take a few days off to spend some time with my family, and the whole Internet goes crazy because there’s been a bunch of new planets discovered!

In case you haven’t heard yet, NASA announced yesterday that it has discovered a total of seven Earth-sized planets orbiting the intoxicatingly named Jupiter-sized dwarf star TRAPPIST-1 (or, if you’re teetotaling, less, intoxicatingly 2MASS J23062928-0502285). TRAPPIST is an acronym for the name of the Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST) observatory in Chile that has been studying the star. Three of these planets are in TRAPPIST-1’s habitable zone.

The TRAPPIST-1 system
The TRAPPIST-1 system (from JPL/Spitzer)

TRAPPIST-1 and its planets are right in our cosmic backyard, only 39 light years away, off in the constellation Aquarius. That’s a couple of light years closer to us than the big bright winter star Capella, in the constellation Auriga, in your skies tonight. Of course, on a local scale, this is still 229,300,000,000,000 miles so it’d take roughly forever to get there using our current rocketing skills, but that’s not really the point.

These planets seem to be so Earth-like, possibly with water on the surfaces of the ones in the habitable zone, that they could hold what we think of when we think of life. I don’t think anyone’s really seriously thinking of getting in their Jetsons’ car and zipping off to visit whoever might be visiting, but they’re so close that they’re easy to study.

I haven’t had a lot of time to read about it yet, but I can’t wait to get some time to sit with the news a bit. Could these planets hold life? Maybe. Even if they don’t, and it’ll be some time before we learn anything, it’s incredibly exciting. On Earth, where there’s water, there’s life, even in the most seemingly inhospitable places, places where near-boiling, sulfur-infused water bubbles out of deep cracks. This could be a huge breakthrough in our hunt for life outside out solar system. I can’t wait to read more and see what we’re about to learn. Could TRAPPIST-1 be the place? It’s hard to say, of course. This seems incredibly promising.

Or, maybe, since these planets are all very close to their star so they’re likely tidally locked (one side always faces the star while the other side always faces away, sort of like the way the same side of the moon always faces the earth). The conditions on the surfaces could be bleak. Who knows? That’s part of the magic. Nothing could come of this, and no one’s making any promises of anything more than seven planets for now. Why not be optimistic? I am.

When I look up at the sky, I often wonder who’s looking back. One day, I’m sure, we’ll find it. No matter what happens, it’s incredible what we’re able to find and discover these days. We’re not ready to step out and travel between the stars, not yet, but we’re getting closer and these discoveries are important steps along the way. Congratulations to all of the people behind this discovery. I’ll raise a glass of Chimay in their honor tonight. This truly is a golden age.

Stay tuned!

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6 thoughts on “The News From TRAPPIST-1!

  1. It has been causing quite a buzz on the internet and in news stories. Habitable and life-supporting conjure up people being able to live in such places in the minds of a lot of people here on earth. You and I both know that life on earth can survive in some of the most hellish places where no human would ever be able to live. I’m thinking of hot springs in Yellowstone, smoker vents at the bottom of ocean trenches, and in icy cold environments. It would still be great to know that life can be found elsewhere. I am confident it can.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yeah, same here. I’m really excited to read more. I’ve sort of been in a bit of a daze lately trying to imagine what it must be like on those planets. Are they hot? Wet? Airy? Windy? These sorts of dwarf stars are prone to flares. So, the planets could be bleak places. The tidal locking is fascinating, too. The most diatant of them has a period a quarter of Mercury’s. What is it like to look in toward the middle of its system and see six other tightly huddled planets? It’s a tremendous time for space exploration. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

      I love your new project, btw, and I want to read more!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. From everything I’ve seen/heard so far, people seem pretty excited that one or more of these planets might have life, but the tidal locking and the flare star give me pause. My instincts tell me the TRAPPIST-1 System would not be a very pleasant place to live, even for microorganisms. However, I still have to read more about it. It sounds like they’ve already been able to collect atmospheric data about some of these planets. That might give us more reason to be optimistic.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Yeah…. the more I read the more my mind soars, though I agree, that it might not be an easy place to live. Then again, we’re always looking for life as we know it, carbon-based, in need of water. Life on Earth has evolved to be very well suited to living here. If the ingredients are plentiful in the TRAPPIST-1 system, maybe well-suited life has evolved there, too, on one of those unusual planets, even if they’re totally inhospitible to Earth-style life.

    Liked by 1 person

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