Trappist-1 Planetary System

WHAT IT IS

  • February 22, 2017: NASA announced the discovery of the star Trappist-1 that has at least 7 Earth-like planets in its orbit.
  • Trappist-1 is a red dwarf star located within the constellation Aquarius.
  • It is located approximately 39 light years away from Earth (close by galaxy standards- the Milky Way spans 100,000 light years).
  • The planets have sizes and masses similar to that of Earth and Venus, and it is possible that these planets could be hospitable to life.

WHY IT MATTERS

Are we truly alone in this galaxy? Earth is currently the only known planet that supports life, so the discovery of the Trappist-1 system could bring us one-step closer to confirming if other forms of life exist in our galaxy. Scientists are examining the chemical fingerprint of each of the planets to determine if they are similar to Earth’s atmosphere, which would indicate the possibility of life. Further study of the Trappist-1 system could unearth new scientific discoveries and advance human knowledge of the galaxy and the conditions that allow life to flourish. Life elsewhere could soon turn from dream to reality.

  • THE SKEPTICS – “Only Mother Earth”

    • The Dark Side: The 7 planets are so close to the sun they could be tidally locked, meaning that one side is always facing towards the sun while the other is always facing away from the sun (similar to Earth’s moon)
    • Can’t survive: The tidal lock creates substantial temperature differences in the two hemispheres, therefore, likely that one side is too hot to sustain life while the other is too cold
    • Give me shelter: Red dwarfs can be volatile and produce solar flares, and could create an environment inhospitable to life.
    • Not enough info: Some say it is too soon to determine if life is present on the planet
  • THE BELIEVERS – “E.T. Phone Home!”

    • Science of life: The process of panspermia, in which microbes fly back and forth between planets through the force of a meteor impact, could facilitate the evolution of life on the planets.
    • Three Little Bears: 3 of the 7 planets are thought to lie within “Goldilocks zone,” in which the distance from the star is most optimal to support liquid water. Water can equal life.
    • Old as dirt: The planets are each thought to be about a billion years old, giving hope for evolution.
    • Keep quiet: Trappist-1 is a quiet star, unlikely to produce solar flares that would be detrimental to the formation of life

WHERE WE ARE NOW

  • Scientists are meticulously studying the Trappist-1 system through advanced telescopes and believe that within a decade we will know if it contains life
  • Even if life does not currently exist on the planets, there is still a chance that it will eventually evolve
  • Trappist-1 is 500 million years old (while our sun, comparatively, is 4.5 billion years old) and as a red dwarf, likely has another one thousand billion years left for life to develop

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT

  • If life forms to exist, will they resemble human life or something completely different?
  • Will countries unite in the effort to uncover new scientific discoveries?
  • Will we ever have the technology possible to travel to another galaxy?