This is an historical moment. The scientists at NASA have found seven earthlike planets in the solar system of a dwarf star in the Aquarius constellation, around 40 light-years away. The name of the dwarf star is TRAPPIST-1 (check out the hyperlink, it’s interesting). Three among the seven planets are in the habitable zone (often called the Goldilocks zone) – not too hot and not too cold. These are also called exoplanets.
Although water may exist on all the seven planets, the three with the habitable zone are the likeliest to have water on them. NASA has claimed that this is a record-breaking discovery.
Google has created a doodle to commemorate the momentous event.
The doodle shows an animated earth looking through a telescope with the smaller moon hoovering around like a younger sibling. Then suddenly a small earth-like planet shows up in the telescope and within a second, a few more planets wave at earth while earth is dumbfounded and moon is jubilant. Here is the doodle:
Scientists at NASA and other space agencies now openly admit that it is just a matter of time before a planet sustaining life is discovered. Now, it is not about if life exists out there, it is, when we find a planet having life on it. The concept of life existing on other planets no longer remains an absurd topic.
Here is a small video from NASA about the 7 earth-like planets found 40 light-years away.
Here is another interesting video from the TRAPPIST website:
The discovery of these 7 earthlike planets is quite rare because all the seven planets have temperate weather and also have the possibility of containing water. It is the first time in the history of space exploration that so many planets of habitable nature have been found in the same solar system around the same star. The discovery was made by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope.
The discovery was made public in this Nature study. The discovery of the 7 earthlike planets was also announced at the news conference at NASA headquarters in Washington.
The planets are quite close to each other. According to Michael Gillon, astronomer at the University of Liege in Belgium, “If you were on the surface of one of these planets, you would have a wonderful view of the other planets. They would be much more than just ‘dots of light’ in the sky, as we see other planets, like Venus, from our home planet.”
Maybe from the surface of these planets, the other planets would look like our Moon, but of different colours.
What makes this discovery a great moment is that these are observable planets. Although various space agencies have catalogued thousands of planets that may have life and that fall under the habitable zone category, it’s not easy to observe them and with current scientific capabilities, it’s practically impossible to observe them from such a great distance. But seven planets are at an observable distance. If life exists on these planets, if they release gases into the atmosphere like we do on earth, our scientists will be able to observe that.
The discovery is also important because sooner or later, given the current tendencies of the humankind, we may end up destroying our planet and a few lucky ones may get the chance to move on to another planet.
NASA has even created posters dedicated to the new planets found:
Personally, I feel, although it is important to find habitable planets, more important is, finding ways to travel. For example, even if we can travel with the speed of light, it will take us 40 years to reach the solar system. In space, 40 light years is a tiny distance, but for humans, it might be impossible to cover. We will certainly need technology that is beyond the realms of current science in order to be able to cover distances in the space and reach other planets. The fact that people from other planets haven’t yet reached our planet (that we know of) proves that space travel is actually quite difficult.