NASA Discovers 7 Planets That Could Support Life

 

Sick of news, politics, and that chatty co-worker who eats a garlic bagel every morning? A new life awaits you in the off-worlds! On Wednesday, NASA announced that they have found seven new Earth-sized planets. The best part? They’re just down the street, astronomically speaking.

The star TRAPPIST-1 is the sun for these seven worlds, just 39 light years away from Cape Canaveral. It’s located in the Aquarius constellation, visible every fall in the Northern Hemisphere. Technically, TRAPPIST-1 is known as an “ultra-cool dwarf star.” (Scientists probably added “ultra-cool” to make the sun feel better about that whole “dwarf” deal.)

All seven planets are considered temperate, meaning all could potentially have water. Of those, three are located in the habitable zone (shown above as d, e, and f), making them the most likely to support life. For all we know, they could already be flush with flora and fauna, or at least could be an excellent spot for humans to export our plants and critters.

“This discovery could be a significant piece in the puzzle of finding habitable environments, places that are conducive to life,” said NASA’s Thomas Zurbuchen. “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.”

TRAPPIST-1 got its name from the TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope in Chile, which was used to discover some of its exoplanets. NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope identified the rest of the planets and provided the data leading to the space agency’s announcement.

You can watch NASA’s short video on the discovery here:

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There are 101 comments.

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  1. Crazy Horse Member

    Ultra-cool? I see NASA rejected my letter writing campaign to classify the sun as hella-dope. Good luck raising awareness without the power of stale 90s urban slang.

    Peace out.

    • #1
    • February 22, 2017, at 2:13 PM PDT
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  2. La Tapada Member

    Incredible!

    • #2
    • February 22, 2017, at 2:16 PM PDT
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  3. Judge Mental Member

    What is the star? They mention a name for the planetary system, but I doubt the star was called Trappist before that. Is it one of the names folks will recognize, or is it just numbered?

    • #3
    • February 22, 2017, at 2:20 PM PDT
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  4. Cato Rand Reagan
    1. Very cool.
    2. The fastest thing we’ve ever invented, as far as I can find, is the Solar Probe Plus, which is set to be launched in 2018 and reach speeds of 450,000 miles/hour orbiting the sun. 39 light years is about 234,000,000,000,000 miles so at the fastest speed we’ve ever invented we’d get there in only 520,000,000 hours or 21,666,666 days or 59,320 years.
    3. This is gonna be cool.
    • #4
    • February 22, 2017, at 2:23 PM PDT
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  5. Jon Gabriel, Ed. Chief
    Jon Gabriel, Ed. Post author

    Judge Mental (View Comment):
    What is the star? They mention a name for the planetary system, but I doubt the star was called Trappist before that. Is it one of the names folks will recognize, or is it just numbered?

    It was known as 2MASS J23062928-0502285, which NASA didn’t find catchy enough.

    • #5
    • February 22, 2017, at 2:26 PM PDT
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  6. Polyphemus Coolidge

    I hate to be Mr. Killjoy but, as I understand it, the conditions on Earth that enable life at all, much less intelligent life, are so “astronomically” (sorry) rare as to overwhelm even the vast number of possible planets in the universe. Such things as the precise combination of elements in our atmosphere, distance from our sun, our orbital shape, the narrow window of stability during the lifespan of a star and many other factors can serve to pour some cold water on the possibility of life on other planets. Not that we couldn’t one day colonize them with the proper technology. But if you are looking for intelligent life…maybe don’t hold your breath.

    I’m not really arguing this. I’m not in a position to do that. I’m just wondering if others more versed in it have any sense of this aspect of the subject. Our planetary situation seems extremely improbable from some of the things I have read and heard. Anyone looked into this?

    • #6
    • February 22, 2017, at 2:53 PM PDT
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  7. Sabrdance Member

    *looks at world*

    *looks at probability of gruesome death even before leaving solar system*

    Sold. When do we move?

    • #7
    • February 22, 2017, at 2:58 PM PDT
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  8. Mark Wilson Member

    Polyphemus (View Comment):
    Our planetary situation seems extremely improbable from some of the things I have read and heard. Anyone looked into this?

    I have read similar points here and there. Often these are the result of what could be called “naive” probability calculations. These are calculations that make blanket assumptions like “all variables are independent”, or “all variables have a uniform probability distribution”. Whereas in reality, we have no idea of the interdependency of critical variables; that is, a favorable value for parameter A might somehow narrow the possibilities of parameter B to make favorable values much more likely. Nor do we know the actual probability distributions of these critical events. They might not even be random.

    • #8
    • February 22, 2017, at 3:01 PM PDT
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  9. Judge Mental Member

    Polyphemus (View Comment):
    Our planetary situation seems extremely improbable from some of the things I have read and heard. Anyone looked into this?

    One of the things that a discovery like this does is to make our solar system seem more typical. Until relatively recently, we weren’t even sure that other stars were likely to have planets. In other words, that one of those improbable things might be having a bunch of planets in the first place. After recent discoveries, ours seems fairly normal.

    That still doesn’t mean you’re going to find life everywhere you go, but it does make it more likely than was once thought.

    • #9
    • February 22, 2017, at 3:06 PM PDT
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  10. Trink Coolidge

    I’ll have to pass on being one of the first colonizers. When they explained how little light the inhabitants of the fixed star-facing side would experience, my enthusiasm did a nose-dive.

    {{Shudder}} No thanks.

    Still. It’s fascinating!

    • #10
    • February 22, 2017, at 3:24 PM PDT
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  11. Blue Yeti Admin

    • #11
    • February 22, 2017, at 3:26 PM PDT
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  12. Judge Mental Member

    Trink (View Comment):
    I’ll have to pass on being one of the first colonizers. When they explained how little light the inhabitants of the fixed star-facing side would experience, my enthusiasm did a nose-dive.

    {{Shudder}} No thanks.

    Still. It’s fascinating!

    Maybe they’ll find the Chirpsithra. They prefer those sorts of worlds.

    • #12
    • February 22, 2017, at 3:29 PM PDT
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  13. John Walker Contributor

    Judge Mental (View Comment):
    One of the things that a discovery like this does is to make our solar system seem more typical.

    All of the searches for exoplanets to date have employed techniques which have strong “selection effects” which influence the characteristics of the planets they find. The radial velocity method (detecting planets by the gravitational tug they exert on the star they orbit) is particularly sensitive to large planets in orbits close to their stars. This is why so many “hot Jupiters” will be among the planets detected, even if they are not particularly common among all planets in the galaxy. The transit method (detecting planets by the change in the star’s brightness when a planet passes between the star and the Earth) is most sensitive to planets in orbits close to small stars (such as red dwarf stars, like TRAPPIST-1), so again we shouldn’t be surprised that many of the planets found so far orbit close to red dwarf stars.

    In addition to the selection effects in detection, around 70% of all of the stars in the galaxy are red dwarfs, so assuming they are as likely to have planets as other spectral classes of stars, a large majority of the candidates observed will be red dwarf stars.

    • #13
    • February 22, 2017, at 3:35 PM PDT
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  14. John Walker Contributor

    Polyphemus (View Comment):
    Our planetary situation seems extremely improbable from some of the things I have read and heard. Anyone looked into this?

    You can’t draw any conclusions about frequency or probability of occurrence from a sample size of one, especially since the origin of intelligent life is a necessary condition for the existence of observers like ourselves.

    The selection effects in discovery of exoplanets described in comment #13 above mean we have little information about what typical planetary systems in the galaxy as whole are like, and thus how common or uncommon is the one in which we find ourselves. At present, we’re mostly detecting planets which are easy to detect, which tells us more about our detection techniques than the population of planets overall.

    • #14
    • February 22, 2017, at 3:43 PM PDT
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  15. Judge Mental Member

    John Walker (View Comment):

    Judge Mental (View Comment):
    One of the things that a discovery like this does is to make our solar system seem more typical.

    All of the searches for exoplanets to date have employed techniques which have strong “selection effects” which influence the characteristics of the planets they find. The radial velocity method (detecting planets by the gravitational tug they exert on the star they orbit) is particularly sensitive to large planets in orbits close to their stars. This is why so many “hot Jupiters” will be among the planets detected, even if they are not particularly common among all planets in the galaxy. The transit method (detecting planets by the change in the star’s brightness when a planet passes between the star and the Earth) is most sensitive to planets in orbits close to small stars (such as red dwarf stars, like TRAPPIST-1), so again we shouldn’t be surprised that many of the planets found so far orbit close to red dwarf stars.

    In addition to the selection effects in detection, around 70% of all of the stars in the galaxy are red dwarfs, so assuming they are as likely to have planets as other spectral classes of stars, a large majority of the candidates observed will be red dwarf stars.

    So we have one technique good at spotting small stony planets close in and another good at spotting gas giants. Do you know of a case where both have been applied successfully to a single star and found both types of planet? That might be a way to determine if our general pattern of inner and outer planets is common.

    • #15
    • February 22, 2017, at 3:44 PM PDT
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  16. PHCheese Member

    I wonder if there is global warming on any of them?

    • #16
    • February 22, 2017, at 3:47 PM PDT
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  17. Jon Gabriel, Ed. Chief
    Jon Gabriel, Ed. Post author

    PHCheese (View Comment):
    I wonder if there is global warming on any of them?

    They haven’t picked up any SUV signatures… yet.

    • #17
    • February 22, 2017, at 4:01 PM PDT
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  18. Arthur Beare Member

    Most of the planets in our solar system have moons. All of these are very much smaller, when compared to the size of their planet, than our own. So much so that it makes some sense to characterize earth as a double planet. This peculiar arrangement may (or may not — I certainly can’t say, nor can any one else) be very important to the development of life.

    • #18
    • February 22, 2017, at 4:04 PM PDT
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  19. Crazy Horse Member

    Polyphemus (View Comment):
    I hate to be Mr. Killjoy but, as I understand it, the conditions on Earth that enable life at all, much less intelligent life, are so “astronomically” (sorry) rare as to overwhelm even the vast number of possible planets in the universe. Such things as the precise combination of elements in our atmosphere, distance from our sun, our orbital shape, the narrow window of stability during the lifespan of a star and many other factors can serve to pour some cold water on the possibility of life on other planets. Not that we couldn’t one day colonize them with the proper technology. But if you are looking for intelligent life…maybe don’t hold your breath.

    I’m not really arguing this. I’m not in a position to do that. I’m just wondering if others more versed in it have any sense of this aspect of the subject. Our planetary situation seems extremely improbable from some of the things I have read and heard. Anyone looked into this?

    Oh sure! Typical Planetary Correctness oxygen politics. Sick of intergalactic PC-police!

    [Edit: This joke was funnier in my head]

    • #19
    • February 22, 2017, at 4:13 PM PDT
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  20. NYLibertarianGuy Coolidge

    John Walker (View Comment):
    In addition to the selection effects in detection, around 70% of all of the stars in the galaxy are red dwarfs, so assuming they are as likely to have planets as other spectral classes of stars, a large majority of the candidates observed will be red dwarf stars.

    And to compound the transit method’s selection bias for close-in exoplanet detection, we can only detect planets in systems where the planetary disc is oriented so that we can observe the transit. It’s possible that there are many other similar systems where the transit method will fail due to the orientation of the system.

    • #20
    • February 22, 2017, at 4:51 PM PDT
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  21. Trink Coolidge

    John Walker (View Comment):
    around 70% of all of the stars in the galaxy are red dwarfs

    That is interesting. I’m going to have to do some googling to see the whyfors of that.

    • #21
    • February 22, 2017, at 5:12 PM PDT
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  22. Susan Quinn Contributor

    I just want to go on an eco-tour! You know, get rocks and stuff, anything that glows in the dark. I’m ready!

    • #22
    • February 22, 2017, at 5:15 PM PDT
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  23. Umbra Fractus Inactive

    Arthur Beare (View Comment):
    So much so that it makes some sense to characterize earth as a double planet.

    No, a double (or binary) planet system is one like Pluto/Charon where both objects orbit a center of mass which is outside both objects. While the center of mass of the Earth/Luna system is not at Earth’s center, it is still within the Earth itself.

    • #23
    • February 22, 2017, at 6:16 PM PDT
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  24. Skyler Coolidge

    I certainly hope these reports are reasonably accurate, but I find it too incredible to believe that we can know so much about these planets, or even have much faith that they are even there. I’m willing to suspend disbelief concerning the odds of their existing, and I would agree that verification by sending out a probe of sorts, knowing it may take 150 years or more to arrive to a point to observe much is worthwhile, but I’m not going to just accept the claims without a big pinch of salt. (Yeah, that’s a run-on sentence, but I’m too sleepy to edit it.)

    If they cure aging, I’ll be the first to volunteer to go find what’s out there, but I don’t like speculation being treated so matter of factly.

    • #24
    • February 22, 2017, at 7:38 PM PDT
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  25. NYLibertarianGuy Coolidge

    Skyler (View Comment):
    I certainly hope these reports are reasonably accurate, but I find it too incredible to believe that we can know so much about these planets, or even have much faith that they are even there. I’m willing to suspend disbelief concerning the odds of their existing, and I would agree that verification by sending out a probe of sorts, knowing it may take 150 years or more to arrive to a point to observe much is worthwhile, but I’m not going to just accept the claims without a big pinch of salt. (Yeah, that’s a run-on sentence, but I’m too sleepy to edit it.)

    If they cure aging, I’ll be the first to volunteer to go find what’s out there, but I don’t like speculation being treated so matter of factly.

    I might as well ask how you know that your nose is on the front of your face. Is there some alternate explanation for the reported observations that you have in mind?

    • #25
    • February 22, 2017, at 7:43 PM PDT
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  26. Pete EE Member

    JLocked (View Comment):

    … Such things as the precise combination of elements in our atmosphere, distance from our sun, our orbital shape, the narrow window of stability during the lifespan of a star and many other factors can serve to pour some cold water on the possibility of life on other planets. Not that we couldn’t one day colonize them with the proper technology. But if you are looking for intelligent life…maybe don’t hold your breath.

    Oh sure! Typical Planetary Correctness oxygen politics. Sick of intergalactic PC-police!

    [Edit: This joke was funnier in my head]

    oxygen privilege.

    • #26
    • February 22, 2017, at 11:26 PM PDT
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  27. Pete EE Member

    Cato Rand (View Comment):

    2. The fastest thing we’ve ever invented, as far as I can find, is the Solar Probe Plus, which is set to be launched in 2018 and reach speeds of 450,000 miles/hour orbiting the sun. 39 light years is about 234,000,000,000,000 miles so at the fastest speed we’ve ever invented we’d get there in only 520,000,000 hours or 21,666,666 days or 59,320 years.

    The lightsail from breakthrough starshot promises to be way faster: one-fifth the speed of light. We could have spacecraft there in 200 years. (240 to get the pictures).

    • #27
    • February 22, 2017, at 11:34 PM PDT
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  28. Hartmann von Aue Member

    Judge Mental (View Comment):

    Polyphemus (View Comment):
    Our planetary situation seems extremely improbable from some of the things I have read and heard. Anyone looked into this?

    One of the things that a discovery like this does is to make our solar system seem more typical. Until relatively recently, we weren’t even sure that other stars were likely to have planets. In other words, that one of those improbable things might be having a bunch of planets in the first place. After recent discoveries, ours seems fairly normal.

    That still doesn’t mean you’re going to find life everywhere you go, but it does make it more likely than was once thought.

    In a word, no. Of the 3,500+ exoplanets discovered to this point, most are either “Hot Jupiters” or huge rocks orbiting so close to their stars that there is essentially zero likelihood that they have an atmosphere much less one that would make hosting possible life in the first place. Each new discovery of exoplanets, when one reads the fine print, turns out to be another bullet in the heart of the Copernican Principle. The Earth seems even more freakishly improbable, not less.

    • #28
    • February 23, 2017, at 1:40 AM PDT
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  29. Hartmann von Aue Member

    Pete EE (View Comment):

    JLocked (View Comment):

    … Such things as the precise combination of elements in our atmosphere, distance from our sun, our orbital shape, the narrow window of stability during the lifespan of a star and many other factors can serve to pour some cold water on the possibility of life on other planets.

    Ward and Brownlee’s Rare Earth Hypothesis has gotten nothing but confirmation from exoplanet discoveries. And there are about 350 factors in habitability last time I checked, including the presence of a huge gas giant at the right orbital distance, plate tectonics….

    In other words: you got it.

    • #29
    • February 23, 2017, at 1:44 AM PDT
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  30. Randy Webster Member

    Trink (View Comment):
    I’ll have to pass on being one of the first colonizers. When they explained how little light the inhabitants of the fixed star-facing side would experience, my enthusiasm did a nose-dive.

    {{Shudder}} No thanks.

    Still. It’s fascinating!

    The planets in the biozone were tide locked?

    • #30
    • February 23, 2017, at 2:54 AM PDT
    • Like
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