NASA Telescope Reveals Record-Breaking Exoplanet Discovery

  • ‘NASA astronomers have discovered a single star system, 40 light-years away, that has seven Earth-like planets (small, rocky, and within the range of orbit in which liquid water could form). [Vox / Brian Resnick]
  • Three of the planets are directly in what’s called the “habitable zone,” meaning temperature water could easily remain in liquid form on their surfaces; the other four could have water as well, depending on the compositions of their atmospheres. [NASA]
  • The star at the center of the system — called Trappist-1 — isn’t like the sun at all. It’s a super-cool dwarf star (which means sunsets on these planets are likely salmon-colored). [The Atlantic / Marina Koren]
  • That’s actually extremely promising — not only are super-cool stars easier to discover planets around (because they are dim enough to flicker when a planet passes in front of them), but they are also far more common than sun-like stars. []
  • To discover more potential Earth-like planets around super-cool stars, NASA is working with an initiative called (in an epic act of backronymy) SPECULOOS — like the cookie butter. [SPECULOOS]
  • Few, if any, of these worlds will actually be habitable by human standards. The astronomical term “habitable” applies to plenty of arrangements that sensible humans would call, as Katie Mack puts it, “lethal nightmare planets.” [Cosmos / Katie Mack]
  • But for the moment, the planets of Trappist-1 exist in the world of tantalizing possibility. Fittingly, Nature magazine published a sci-fi story side by side with the paper announcing the discovery. [Nature / Laurence Suhner]’