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11 things about TRAPPIST-1 - Solar system with 7 Earth-like planets


On February 22, 2017, NASA made an extraordinary announcement. No, unfortunately the intelligent life has not yet been discovered in the cosmos, but the discovery is certainly a step towards this universal goal: at a distance not very high from Earth (in astronomical terms), a solar system has been discovered that includes at least 7 Earth-like planets in terms of mass and size. It is the first time astronomers have discovered so many terrestrial planets orbiting a single star, and this solar system could be the best place in the galaxy to seek extraterrestrial life. Even if this does not happen, TRAPPIST-1 will give scientists an unprecedented opportunity to study the formation of solar systems and the behavior of rocky worlds. Here's what we know so far:

1. TRAPPIST-1 is an ultra-cold dwarf star located in the Aquarius constellation at about 39 light years from Earth; is 10 times smaller and 2.5 times as cold as the Sun, with a range of only 11.5% of the Sun, with a mass of only 8% of that of the Sun; has a diameter of about 79,000 km and a weight of about 1.59 x 1029 kg;

2. TRAPPIST-1 was discovered in 1999 as part of an astronomical study of the whole sky; the barrel was known as the "Two Micron All-Sky Survey" (short 2MASS) and conducted by NASA in collaboration with US universities; the original name of the star is 2MASS J23062928-0502285;

3. In 2010, Michael Gillon, an astronomer at the University of Liege, Belgium, and his colleagues began to monitor the smallest "neighbors" of the Sun with the help of TRAPPIST-S (Chile); they have searched for the so-called "transits" - the moment when the light of a star is diminished by a planet when it passes between that star and Earth); due to the low brightness of small-mass stars, it is easier for astronomers to discover the planets around them;

4. The solar system was discovered in 2015 by the TRAPPIST (Trasiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope), the Belgian telescope, installed in two points: TRAPPIST-S (South Trappist) at the La Silla Observatory in Chile, and TRAPPIST- N (Trappist North) at Oukaimeden Observatory in Măroc; Between December 15, 2016 and March 4, 2017, the Kepler probe was redirected by NASA to study in detail sTRAPPIST-1;

5. Spitzer, an infrared ray telescope that tracks the earth in its orbit to the Sun, was very suitable for studying TRAPPIST-1, because it shines louder in infrared light; so in the autumn of 2016, Spitzer observed TRAPPIST-1 almost continuously for 500 hours;

6. Around the dwarf star orbit at least 7 planets, of which 3 (e, f, and g) are located in the Goldilocks area ("living" area - the region around a star where water may exist in liquid form on the surface of a planets), making them excellent candidates for the evolution of life;

7. Unlike the planets in our solar system, all seven planetary orbits TRAPPIST-1 are closer to the host star than Mercury to the Sun; and the planets are very close to one another - if a person were on the surface of a planet, they might see geological features or clouds in the neighboring worlds that would seem closer than the Moon in the sky of the Earth; due to the size of the star, even the sky of the day would not become brighter than the Earth even after the sunset, everything having a reddish color;

8. The first 3 planets, called TRAPPIST-1b, TRAPPIST-1c and TRAPPIST-1d, orbit the mother-star every 1.5, 2.4, or 4 earthly days, indicating that it orbits at a distance of 20-100 times next to it, than the Earth to the Sun; although TRAPPIST-1 produces nearly 1,000 times less radiation than the Sun, the first three worlds are most likely still too hot to maintain a significant amount of surface water, although the possibility is not excluded;

9. The seven planets of TRAPPIST-1 could be locked in synchronous rotation by their star (just like Moon with the Earth), which means that the same part of the planet is always in front of the star, therefore each side is perpetual day or night; this would mean that they have totally different weather patterns than those on Earth;

10. TRAPPIST-1h, the farthest planet from the star, is the only one whose mass and orbit is not yet known; scientists think it could be a frozen world, like a snowball, but more observations are needed to determine this accurately;

11. Spitzer, Hubble and Kepler telescopes will help astronomy plan further studies using the James Webb Space Telescope, which cost around $ 8.8 billion to be launched in 2018; with a much greater sensitivity, Webb will detect chemical imprints of water, methane, oxygen, ozone and other components of the planet's atmosphere; it will also analyze surface temperatures and pressures - key factors in assessing the habitat of planets; scientists expect that in the next 10 years we will almost certainly find out whether or not life exists on these planets;

The discovery of the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system means that we are no longer alone in the universe? Perhaps not, but surely, with the help of telescopes directed to planets that are light years away from us, we can reveal the vital clues about their formation and the possibility of life on other planets. Our galaxy is home to about 100 billion stars, and it is believed that around 15% of these are ultra-cold dwarfs, like TRAPPIST-1. If a fraction of these stars host multiple planetary systems and if some of them have terrestrial planets in a habitable area, there would be millions of rocky worlds waiting to be discovered!
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