Today, NASA held a news conference in which they announced the discovery of seven new earth-sized planets. All seven planets were found to be orbiting the same star about 40 light-years away.
Astronomers are taking a keen interest in this discovery for one special reason: these planets are similar to Earth in both size and climate, meaning that there’s a high likelihood that they can sustain life.
“This discovery could be a significant piece in the puzzle of finding habitable environments, places that are conducive to life,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator at NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “Answering the question ‘are we alone?’ is a top science priority, and finding so many planets like these for the first time in the habitable zone is a remarkable step forward toward that goal.”
The dwarf star that these planets are orbiting has been named TRAPPIST-1. Researchers believe that at least three of these planets are within the star’s habitable zone. These planets are known as TRAPPIST-1e, f and g. Some researchers speculate that these planets may even have oceans.
“I think we’ve made a crucial step towards finding if there is life out there,” said Amaury Triaud, a member of the research team and an astronomer at the University of Cambridge. “I don’t think any time before we had the right planets to discover and find out if there was (life). Here, if life managed to thrive and releases gases similar to what we have on Earth, we will know.”
Unfortunately, it’s going to take a very long time before researchers can confirm whether or not these planets support life. Because these planets are 40-light years away, it would take millions of years to reach this star system. Until then, researchers will just have to make do with what can be gleaned from their ultra high-tech telescopes.