New Planets and New Knowledge

By Victoria Robertson on February 26, 2017

Well, by now, you’ve probably all heard it: there are seven new planets about the size of Earth that were identified by NASA orbiting a star that’s not all that far away.

And people are already talking about aliens.

And for good reason – apparently, this is the first “realistic” chance for us to find alien life “outside the solar system.”

According to astronomer Amaury H. M. J. Triaud in an article on Fox59, “I think that we have made a crucial step toward finding if there is life out there … Here, if life managed to thrive and releases gases similar to that we have on Earth, then we will know.”

Also interested in new life is Thomas Zurbuchen, an associate administrator at NASA, who says “you can just imagine how many worlds are out there that have a shot to becoming a habitable ecosystem … Are we alone out there? We’re making a step forward with this — a leap forward, in fact — towards answering that question.”

But really, it isn’t all about alien life. In fact, these planets might not have life whatsoever — but we would even learn something from that. One of the big takeaways if alien life isn’t present is what makes planets hospitable and what prevents life.

These seven planets were found orbiting Trappist-1, a dwarf star 40 light-years away from us. (For those of you that aren’t sure what a light-year is, that’s over 200 trillion miles away from us.)

According to Michael Gillon, an astronomer, “This is the first time so many planets of this kind are found around the same star.”

However, Trappist-1 and our sun are quite different, which begs the question: what about the planets orbiting it are different? In comparative terms, our sun would be the size of a basketball and the Trappist-1 star would be the size of a golf ball.

Interestingly, in order to determine there were planets orbiting the star, scientists noticed a dimming of light from the star, as if a planet was passing in front of it. They recorded this process meticulously, calculating both the size of the star and the number of planets in its orbit.

Apparently, all seven planets are very near the dwarf star, one of which only takes 1.5 days to orbit it.

According to Dr. Gillon, “They form a very compact system, the planets being pulled close to each other and very close to the star.”

Another interesting observation is that originally, the planets may have been formed much further from the star, pulled in over time by the gravitational pull.

So what has everyone so excited over these planets?

For one thing, it’s believed that the surfaces are at the proper temperature for water flow, as the star nearest to them is rather cool. If this is the case, the planets might have one of the most essential ingredients for sustaining life.

Of course, this is all speculation. But it’s exciting, nonetheless.

There are still debates and a lot of questions to be answered, and most of the information we have at this point is speculation.

But science has also come a long way; decades ago, we didn’t know much at all about the other planets in the solar system. Now, we have over 3,400 confirmed planets out there.

So it only stands to reason that we might not have more answers until a few more decades from now. Apparently, astronomers believe that technological advancements are needed before more planets will be discovered around brighter stars out there.

So the fact that they have found these planets is really spectacular and could be extremely informative as to what else is in the solar system that we aren’t even aware of at this point.

And of course, it’s easy to get excited about the potential for alien life, as it’s an interesting (albeit scary) thought that there are extraterrestrial beings out there we didn’t even know existed.

And for those of us that aren’t so onboard the alien train, this discovery could bring with it scientific information regarding what it takes for a planet to sustain life and whether or not other planets could potentially be as hospitable as Earth.

Again, right now, it’s all speculation grounded in scientific knowledge. But this discovery is still one to pay attention to, even if you aren’t an avid believer in aliens.

Science is home to some groundbreaking discoveries that may just shape our future, so pay attention to what’s going on around you.

This is big news for many reasons, and might just be the key to understanding what else is out there because if science agrees on anything, it’s that we aren’t alone.

There’s plenty more out there to be discovered, just waiting on our technological advancement to reach it.

So here’s to the scientific discoveries of the next few decades — we can’t wait to learn what you have in store for us.

Victoria is a dedicated writer who graduated from the University of Illinois with a Bachelor of Arts in English. She currently writes freelance pieces for various sites and works in Marketing for Myndbee Inc., promoting their current mobile app, Picpal.

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