Color us titillated.
Yesterday’s announcement by NASA of seven (!) Earth-sized planets orbiting the star TRAPPIST-1 was amazing. With three worlds in the habitable or “Goldilocks'” zone of the relatively cold dwarf star, the discovery is yet another step forward in locating not only potentially habitable worlds–but life beyond our own solar system.
The TRAPPIST-1 solar system is just really freaking cool, too. NASA presented some incredible artist renderings of what life on those planets might look like: they believe the planets are tidally-locked, meaning they don’t have day-night cycles like Earth–that is, one half of each planet is perpetually day, while the other half is perpetually night. Furthermore, if you were standing on the surface of one of the planets–because they’re so close together–you’d be able to clearly see the other planets. NASA explained that it wouldn’t be like seeing Venus or Mars from Earth (essentially just really bright stars), but rather, the planets would be roughly the same size as our own moon! Finally, TRAPPIST-1 is a cold dwarf star, which gives off relatively little heat. The planets within its habitable zone are thus much closer to it than the habitable zone around our own sun. Thus, if you were standing on one of the habitable worlds, the sun would appear much larger than our own. And the light it gives off is much different than our own sun, described as “salmon-colored.”
The discovery makes the writer in us tingle at the countless possibilities presented.
Beyond that, the discovery is just further proof of what humanity is capable of. TRAPPIST-1 is 40 light years away–that’s 12 parsecs for you Han Solo fans, or 2.3221e+14 miles. Which is a lot of miles. We think. The fact that we’re able to study a solar system that far away is mind-boggling. The fact that we can discern the number of planets in that solar system is crazy. The fact that we can determine those planets’ sizes, mass, atmospheric makeup is…insane.
When you think about what humanity has been able to do, scientifically, in just the last sixty-odd-years, it makes you wonder what the next sixty will hold in store. Achievements like this might lack the spectacle of sending the first satellite into orbit, or landing a man on the moon, but when you stop and think about what this actually means…it’s incredible.
We’re excited to see what further discoveries are made about TRAPPIST-1, and have no doubt that countless amazing discoveries await us as we begin to probe deeper and deeper into space.
As always, thanks for reading.
W & W Sawday