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3 Out of 7 Newly Discovered Earth-like Planets are Potentially Habitable, NASA Reveals

Feb 23, 2017 11:58 AM EST
NASA & TRAPPIST-1: A Treasure Trove of Planets Found
NASA confirmed the existence of another Solar System composed of seven Earth-like planets orbiting a star. Three of the seven are found in the habitable zone.
(Photo : NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory/YouTube Screenshot)

The world woke up to the news that seven Earth-like planets were discovered orbiting an ultracool star called Trappist-1. This new Solar System was spotted by telescopes worldwide and three out of the seven are found in the habitable zone.

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, ESA's Very Large Telescope and other telescopes around the world concurred that a first solar system composed of a single star and seven Earth-sized planets were discovered. The interesting discovery is that three out of the seven could be habitable and experts say most of the newly discovered planets may have flowing liquid water on it. This is the first star system or solar system with seven planets discovered.

"The discovery gives us a hint that finding the next Earth is not a question of if, but of when," NASA's Science Directorate head Thomas Zurbuchen, said in a press conference.

Water is one of the building blocks of life. This highly increases the chance of finding signs of life but experts say it is still too early to tell. If the right atmospheric conditions also exist on the newly discovered planets then the star system is the best chance to search for life. NASA however, identified that the three planets found in the habitable zone are the top candidates.

"This discovery could be a significant piece in the puzzle of finding habitable environments, places that are conducive to life," Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington said in a press release. "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 Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST-1) is located about 40 light-years (235 trillion miles) away from Earth in the Aquarius constellation. It is named after the telescope in Chile that first reported the three planets orbiting a star. Several years later, other telescopes such as NASA's Spitzer and ESA's Very Large Telescope also contributed to the discovery.

"This is an amazing planetary system - not only because we have found so many planets, but because they are all surprisingly similar in size to the Earth," Michaël Gillon of the STAR Institute at the University in Belgium said in a press release.

The exoplanets are called TRAPPIST-1b, c, d, e, f, g and h and all of them almost the same size as Earth. Astronomers were also able to identify the sizes of the planets by the phenomenon called transiting where the objects move and pass across their sun.

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