Seven New Earth-Like Planets Discovered

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NASA/JPL promo image.

Gabrielle Gautier, Staff Reporter

NASA has discovered a network of planets similar to our solar system which can potentially sustain life (similar to our understanding of it, anyway).  News of this discovery was released February 22nd, but has been making the rounds of social media ever since.

Using a telescope up in orbit, seven exoplanets have been found orbiting a star now being called TRAPPIST-1. This marks the record of the biggest batch of Earth-sized planets found in one solar system. Of the seven exoplanets, three of them seem to be able to contain liquid water and therefore sustain life.

The recent discovery has reopened many old questions of space travel, colonization, and extraterrestrial life. Planets TRAPPIST-1E, F, and G are in what’s called the “Habitable Zone,” the comparison between a planet’s atmospheric differences to Earth’s in which scientists judge if life could exist on a particular planet.

According to NASA’s official press release, TRAPPIST-1 is 40 light years away, or about 235 trillion miles away. This is considered to be close by from an astronomer’s point of view, however it’s theorized that humans will never be able to travel at the speed of light, so the possibility of humans ever being able to colonize the new solar system is slim.

Belgian astronomer Michael Gillon told New York Times that “This is the first time so many planets of this kind were found around the same star.” This indicates that, as of what we know, there is only one other solar system similar to our own.

Many astronomers also believe that if we are going to discover signs of extraterrestrial life, TRAPPIST-1 is where it would be. This begs several more questions, but so far very few answers.  The discovery comes at a time when the government funding of NASA’s work, like other scientific research, is in doubt.

How would we search for extraterrestrial life if humans can’t travel fast enough to ever reach TRAPPIST-1 inside a human lifetime? What if aliens don’t need the same conditions we need in order to live on a planet?

Alien life or not, it’s clear that this discovery is very important to our understanding of other solar systems, and could lead to overcoming obstacles science never thought possible.