In late February of this year, NASA announced the discovery of planets orbiting other stars beyond our solar system. Nikole Lewis, astronomer and scientist, reported a newly discovered solar system 39 light years away from Earth, where no less than three planets may contain evolved life forms. While seven planets in total were discovered, they believe there may be many more orbiting a dwarf star. That means everyone who believes there is life outside of our solar system is one step closer to being correct!
Scientists identify planets with qualities needed to support life as “exoplanets.” At least three of the seven are believed to have conditions with rocky land, and possibly even oceans. Have you ever thought about what alien fishes possibly look like? Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, has suggested that finding life beyond our solar system isn’t a matter of “if” but “when”.
Several ground-based observatories and NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope specifically, were used to discover the planets. The planets are all very close to the star which they orbit around, and because the inner star is really cold, it means the other seven planets are temperate and could have liquid water, and possibly even life on them. The planets are around the same size and density of Earth, suggesting they have rocky inhabitable surfaces.
The three planets with possible life were named after the Trappist robotic telescope at La Silla, Chile, which made the initial key discovery. Classified as TRAPPIST-le, f, and g, the three planets orbit around a hot core of their solar system, with an approximate temperature of 2550 Kelvin and is at least 500 million years old. In comparison, the sun our solar system orbits around is around 4.6 billion years old and has a temperature of 5778 Kelvin, or around 10,000 degrees celsius.
Currently, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is searching for atmospheres around the planets, which would be another clue as to if the newly discovered planets have living creatures on them. This new discovery has led to an increase in funding and development of more advanced telescopes around the world, including the proposed European Extremely Large Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope. These proposed telescopes may be powerful enough to detect if life exists on these planets. Professor Sara Seager, expert of planetary science and physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has said, “We have made a giant accelerated leap forward in the search for habitable world and life in other worlds.” The scientific world is confident that the research will only continue to move forward.