A System of Other Earths
But wait, there’s more.
The discovery team asserts that six of the innermost planets are as rocky as our grand blue marble. Three of those six are within their star’s habitable zone. Also known as the “Goldilocks Zone,” the habitable zone is a region surrounding a star in which liquid water could theoretically exist. That means all three planets could have entire oceans of water, and therefore, life. The other planets are less likely to host oceans of water; however, they aren’t being completely ruled out.
Lead author Michaël Gillon notes that this newly discovered solar system has the largest number of Earth-sized planets yet found, as well as the largest number of worlds that could support liquid water.
“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!” said Gillon.
Co-author Amaury Triaud further notes that the star system is an “ultracool dwarf.” In clarifying what this means in relation to the planets, he states that “The energy output from dwarf stars like TRAPPIST-1 is much weaker than that of our Sun. Planets would need to be in far closer orbits than we see in the Solar System if there is to be surface water. Fortunately, it seems that this kind of compact configuration is just what we see around TRAPPIST-1.”
Okay, but can we get there? Mmm, not with the technology we have right now.
The system is 40 light-years away. Speaking on a cosmic scale, that’s right next door. But unless we are able to open worm holes or build Mass Relays that can transport us over such great distances, we won’t be able to knock on its door anytime soon. If we left right now, it will still take us hundreds of millions of years to get there.
There’s still a lot more to study about this new system. The Hubble Space Telescope is already being used to search for atmospheres around the planets.