The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced the groundbreaking discovery of 7 earth-sized exoplanets, on February 22, 2017. The planets, orbiting a single star called TRAPPIST-1, are about 39 light years away from us.
This new revelation stunned the entire science community, for it’s the first solar system similar to ours ever observed. Moreover, three of the seven planets were located in the habitable zone, also known as the Goldilocks’ Position, implying that potential life could emerge and evolve in these exoplanets.
According to NASA, about 74 percent of the exoplanets are discovered by the “transit method.” The main idea behind this method is to observe the brightness of a target sun, and in this case, TRAPPIST-1.
From time to time, as planets pass by the sun, its brightness will slightly decrease, which will lead to a dwindled intensity of the receiving light. By studying the dimness patterns of the sun, NASA successfully pinpointed the locations of these new exoplanets and calculated its orbital period with a great degree of accuracy.
Not only that, but with the assistance of many ground-based telescopes including NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, a team of researchers was able to estimate the sizes and masses of these exoplanets and calculate their approximate densities.
These approximations are significant, for the values suggest that all of the TRAPPIST-1 planets are likely to be rocky, like Earth. Michaël Gillon, lead author of Nature, an international science journal, explains that “the seven planets … could have some liquid water and maybe life on the surface.”
The questions remain: What do these discoveries really mean in light of the fact that thousands of exoplanets have been discovered? Will this discovery soon be forgotten, like many others? Probably not.
Indeed, Sean Carey, the manager of NASA’s Spitzer Science Center, claims that this finding is “the most exciting result” and will enable them to “reveal more secrets” after more observations are made.
This discovery will help answer the most eerie and puzzling questions, such as the potential presence of other forms of life and the possibility of a second Earth.
As a result, scientists are passionately working on refining their understanding of life permitting planets, based on this discovery. Moreover, the James Webb Space Telescope, capable of determining the exact chemical composition of the atmosphere, is set to launch in 2018.
With this new discovery, our understanding of this vast universe has been enlightened and enriched, as it opened up countless possibilities of life somewhere we had never imagined.
As Thomas Zurbuchen, the NASA associate administrator said, “Finding another Earth-like planet isn’t a matter of if, but when.”