Astronomers at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have discovered not one, not two, but seven roughly Earth-sized planets orbiting a dwarf star in the system.
According to report which surfaced on Wednesday, February 22, the planets were detected using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and several ground-based observatories.
This discovery, which has thrilled astronomers, has raised hopes that the hunt for alien life beyond the solar system could start much sooner than previously thought.
Speaking at a news conference announcing the discovery, Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, said: “The discovery gives us a hint that finding a second Earth is not just a matter of if, but when.”
The seven exoplanets (a planet that orbits a star other than our Sun) were all found in tight formation around an ultracool dwarf star called TRAPPIST-1, about 40 light-years, or 235 trillion miles from Earth.
Three of the new planets are said to be particularly promising because they could sustain oceans. They are in the habitable zone of the star, known as TRAPPIST-1e, f and g.
The planets have the winning combination of being similar in size to Earth and being all temperate, meaning they could have water on their surfaces and potentially support life.
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Estimates of their mass also indicate that they are rocky planets, rather than being gaseous like Jupiter.
It is believed by the researchers that the planets formed together further from the star. Then, they moved into their current lineup.
To mark this Earth-shattering discovery, Google has made a Doodle, featuring the seven planets squeezing into view on the earth's telescope.
This new discovery might just be a PR stunt from NASA because similar planets are being discovered every year. Also, unlike others, this discovery was advertised and widely publicized.
The first exoplanet was confirmed to have been discovered in 1992. Since then, thousands of others have been detected.
According to the Open Exoplanet Catalog, more than 3,400 have been confirmed. Of these, less than a dozen are thought to be well suited to supporting life, and NASA said only three previously known exoplanets were as ideal as those in the new solar system.
Earlier this month, astronomers announced that they had evidence of perhaps as many as 114 new exoplanets. One of those newly-discovered planets was a a hot, rocky “super Earth” called Gliese 411b.
Last year August, astronomers announced the discovery of an Earth-size planet around Proxima Centauri, the closest star at 4.24 light-years away. It was called Proxima b.