Artist rendering of the seven planets discovered in the TRAPPIST-1 system
Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Scifi version:

Science log Stardate 94692.62

Planetary-based and orbital sensors have detected the presence of seven earth-sized planets around a small M8V-class star.

Translated from “Trekspeak” – Meet TRAPPIST-1:

Today NASA announced the results of findings from several international space agencies since investigation began in December 2015. TRAPPIST-1, a small, young Jupiter-sized sun hosts a system of seven earth-sized planets. This is the first known system containing seven earth-like planets. The star is located 39 light years from earth and its planets all fit well inside the orbit of Mercury in our system. Despite their proximity, not all of the planets are likely to be scorched wastelands. TRAPPIST-1 is an ultracool dwarf star that is only 11% the size of our Sun and only .04% as luminous. It is estimated to be around 500 million years old compared to Sol’s 4.6 billion year age. At least three of the planets are believed to be in the “goldilocks zone” where liquid surface water would be possible.

The planets, TRAPPIST-b through TRAPPIST-h, range in size from 75% that of Earth to 110%. They are likely all tidally locked like our moon. Because of their close proximity to each other, someone standing on the surface of one planet could see the companions moving through the sky. The orbits range from 1.5 Earth days to up to 20.

So far, researchers have been unable to determine what kind of atmospheres encompass the planets. Hydrogen-dominated atmospheres have been ruled out for planets b and c. This means that they are rocky rather than gaseous like our system’s outer planets. Planets e, f, and g reside in the habitable zone and an environment ranging from Venus like, to “cloudless and humid” are possible given the existing data. NASA’s Kepler spacecraft is currently studying them along with planet h in a mission that will conclude in March. Better analysis may have to wait until the 2018 launch of NASA’s James Webb telescope.

For more information, we offer  links to the NASA press release, and the Wikipedia page on TRAPPIST-1.

Wyatt D. Odd

Wyatt D. Odd