NASA Astronomers Discover New Solar System Containing 7 Earth-Like Exoplanets

Is there life life beyond our solar system? Will humankind be able to survive after our Sun has exploded? It appears that NASA may have a few answers for us. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration just announced that it has discovered seven earth-like exoplanets in a solar system far, far away. The planets were discovered using transit photometry, a radial velocity method that can determine a planet’s mass.

artists depiction
Artist's depiction of TRAPPIST-1; Credits: ESO/M. Kornmesser

The seven exoplanets revolve around TRAPPIST-1, an ultracool dwarf star located roughly 39 light years away in the Aquarius constellation. The star received its name because it was the first the first star found by the TRAPPIST telescope to have transiting planets. TRAPPIST-1 is a mere baby at 500 million years old compared to our 4.6 billion-year-old Sun. Due to its small mass, TRAPPIST-1 has the potential to live between 4-5 trillion years.

The team of astronomers discovered the first three Earth-like exoplanets back in 2015. Two of those planets appeared locked to their host-star while the other one seemed to be around the habitable zone. Planets within the habitable zone have the potential to support liquid water given sufficient atmospheric pressure. Today, the astronomers announced the existence of four more exoplanets within the TRAPPIST-1 solar system, for a total of seven. At least three of the TRAPPIST-1 planets are in the habitable zone, however, it is quite likely that all seven do or could support life.

The discovered planets have rocky surfaces, denser atmospheres that are similar to the atmosphere of Earth, and could possibly contain oceans. Astronomers will now proceed to examine the exact composition of the planet’s atmospheres. Although the planets are closer to the star than the Earth is to the Sun, the planets are much darker than Earth due to TRAPPIST-1’s small size. If a person stood on one of the exoplanets, their eye would receive 200 times less sunlight than they would on Earth. Co-researcher Dr Amaury Triaud, of the Institute of Astronomy in Cambridge remarked, “We hope we will know if there's life there within the next decade.”