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NASA Earth Space

Thrilling Discovery of Seven Earth-Sized Planets Orbiting Nearby Star (theguardian.com) 273

At a press conference on Wednesday, NASA scientists announced that they have spotted seven Earth-sized planets orbiting closely around a small, ultra-cool star. The star is 39 light years away. From a report on The Guardian: It is the first time that so many Earth-sized planets have been found in orbit around the same star, an unexpected haul that suggests the Milky Way may be teeming with worlds that, in size and firmness underfoot at least, resemble our own rocky home. The planets closely circle a dwarf star named Trappist-1, which at 39 light years away makes the system a prime candidate to search for signs of life. Only marginally larger than Jupiter, the star shines with a feeble light about 2,000 times fainter than our sun. "The star is so small and cold that the seven planets are temperate, which means that they could have some liquid water and maybe life, by extension, on the surface," said Michael Gillon, an astrophysicist at the University of Liege in Belgium. [...] While the planets have Earth-like dimensions, their sizes ranging from 25 percent smaller to 10 percent larger, they could not be more different in other features. Most striking is how compact the planet's orbits are. Mercury, the innermost planet in the solar system, is six times farther from the sun than the outermost seventh planet is from Trappist-1.
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Thrilling Discovery of Seven Earth-Sized Planets Orbiting Nearby Star

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  • I am not saying it was aliens... but these were alien worlds.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The blast of sterilizing radiation at that distance, combined with being tidally locked and probably wracked with catastrophic earthquakes at that distance would make life on these planets an unlikely impossibility.
    • by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Wednesday February 22, 2017 @02:35PM (#53912621) Journal

      I think that greatly depends. Without a strong magnetic field, the Earth would look a lot like Mars, with much of its ancient primordial atmosphere blown away. I can imagine if one or more of those planets do indeed have a strong magnetic field, then I don't see how it is improbable that they could not harbor life. At the moment, we can't even declare with a high degree of assurance that Mars does not host life.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I don't see how it is improbable that they could not harbor life.

        Quote of the day! I had to apply Boolean algebra to deduce your actual meaning.

        • Wow, rereading it, talking about clunky. Logically and grammatically correct, to be sure, but Jesus Christ, how did I ever manage to weave that set of words together. Ouch!

    • by Gorobei ( 127755 )

      Bacteria living underground/underwater don't care much about radiation or earthquakes. Of course, it's bacteria, so we aren't going to be swapping porn or MP3s with them anytime soon.

      • I think we've got plenty of porn [youtube.com] to share with them right now (and don't you just wonder where they got those tiny cigarettes they light up afterwards?)
    • But you can bet there will be a bunch of space cadets saying we should mount a mission to explore these "earth like" planets in our intergalactic back yard.. Never mind that it will take tens of thousands of years with current technology to actually get there and back at the speeds we can manage right now...

      • by SuricouRaven ( 1897204 ) on Wednesday February 22, 2017 @03:18PM (#53912931)

        Mars first. No need to run before you can crawl.

        Though so far our record is to crawl to the moon, feel proud, then crawl back down our hole and declare the rest of the universe isn't that good anyway.

        • And what makes you think the rest of the universe is 1. good and 2. reachable?

          Our most efficient drive system to date (in terms of how much acceleration you get for the amount of propellant used) are plasma/ion engines. They run on electrical power. If you do some rough calculations on the size and weight of a manned space craft with provisions enough to make even a short (say 12 light years or so) trip, the power requirements of the engines alone will exceed the total generation capacity of the world's

          • by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Wednesday February 22, 2017 @04:40PM (#53913509)

            You're missing a rather important detail there that makes your claim essentially meaningless: time.

            We've already launched a few probes that, had we chosen to aim them correctly, would eventually have reached a nearby star system. Sure, Voyager 1 would take ~17,900 years to cross the 4.2ly to Proxima Centauri, but it would so with paltry energy consumption and far less efficient propulsion systems.

            Granted, that's probably too slow to interest anyone in making the trip, and the energy requirements increase dramatically as you travel faster, but that's why most near-term plausible speculation assumes (non-FTL) travel between stars would be in generation ships - it's a much easier problem to solve if you're willing to take a century or three to make the trip.

            Of course that's a long time to keep a relatively small closed ecosystem healthy, so we'd probably want to wait until we had a century or two of experience building and maintaining long-term viable space stations before we even attempted it.

            Also, you talk about the "total generation capacity of the world's electrical grid" as though it's some sort of meaningful indicator about future energy producing capability. In fact though, that's not even a tiny fraction of the energy we're already adding to the Earth today - the CO2 released into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels captures about a million times more energy than was generated by the power plant.

            • I don't see why we would have to send a manned probe. Men require life support, space to live, extreme limits in G forces, extreme radiation shielding, protection from the elements (think running into debris at relativistic speeds), and probably a means to establish a colony on the other side, all of which assumes there is something suitable on the other side to establish a colony on.

              Instead we could send a robotic explore there in say 80 years (spending half the time speeding up to light-speed, half the t
            • I'm talking about the *current* state of technology... If we do this *now* what could we reasonably expect and make the trip in less than 50 years using our most efficient solution currently in development (or flying).

              There is a theory that until we get round trip times down to 50 years or less, it's not worth trying.. Why? Because it is expected that advancing technology will likely make future trips possible at a faster speed and missions using that extra speed will likely pass the previous mission in ro

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday February 22, 2017 @02:46PM (#53912733)

      This is a red M class Dwarf star. The lack of radiation is the more immediate concern rather the excess of it. Red M class dwarf stars emit most of their radiation as infra-red, and barely emit any ultraviolet. If ultraviolet radiation is indeed a requirement for life, then this will be a problem. Total sterilization is unlikely, since the amount of energy hitting the planets will likely be similar to what the Earth is already getting.

      Also, wrt tidal locking, the main concern would be that one side of the surface will be boiling while the other side will be freezing (one side gets all the sun, the other side gets none), which IS a concern wrt. life. Earthquakes are not a direct effect of tidal lock. That would be geological activity.

      Of course, all of this is conjecture. We need to study these kinds of planets a bit more to know for sure. Hence, their importance.

      • I remember playing a SciFi tabletop roleplaying game years ago that had a world generation system, and that one suggested that a tidally-locked world could have a "habitable zone" along the terminator, where temperatures were relatively moderate. I don't know how reasonable that is, since I would imagine that having half the planet's atmosphere at one temperature extreme and the other half at another could lead to some pretty extraordinary heat exchange, in the form of pretty brutal storms.

    • An unlikely impossibility is equivalent to a likely possibility, not to be confused with an infinite improbability.

    • Where are you imagining earthquakes from? If the planets are tidally locked, then their sun would no longer be having any substantial effect on their crusts. Much like the moon doesn't suffer quakes due to being tidally locked with the Earth, unlike the Earth whose crust is constantly being flexed by the gravity of the moon and sun. In fact, being tidally locked likely *reduces* the tectonic activity, since there's no longer any tidal "massaging" of the crust.

      As for the x-ray blasts - I admit that's bad

    • by number6x ( 626555 ) on Wednesday February 22, 2017 @04:29PM (#53913431)

      The blast of sterilizing radiation at that distance, combined with being tidally locked and probably wracked with catastrophic earthquakes at that distance would make life on these planets an unlikely impossibility.

      The sun is a red dwarf and is 0.05% as bright as our sun. It has 8% of the mass of our sun and is 10% of the radius of our sun. It is much smaller, lighter and cooler. Not very much larger than Jupiter. The planets are likely to be tidally locked. Jupiter's Galilean moons are tidally locked to Jupiter, but they are not blasted by radiation. The study showed gravitational synchronization in their orbits, so that could cause earthquakes.

      If the star were our sun the planets would be blasted wastelands tidally locked to their sun. I think the exciting point is that this system is 'only' 40 light years away, so we should be able to study it over the next few decades and learn much more. The planets are transiting their sun, as seen from earth, so we should be able to detect gas within their atmospheres through spectroscopy. Over the next few decades advanced space telescopes should help us gain a great deal of information on this system.

      Could there be life> maybe. There is a whole lot to learn and a great many engineering challenges to solve to let us learn. For me that is more exciting than maybe a small chance of life.

      • One thing we know for certain about at least some of the Galilean moons that due to the gravitational craziness of Jupiter and the big moons, these bodies are pretty damned dynamic. Io is probably the most geologically active body in the solar system, and while Europa's icy crust is fairly dull, a liquid ocean underneath suggests that it is very geologically active as well. I wonder with planets being that much closer to the star, and that much closer to each other, that the relatively low energy output of

      • Jupiter's Galilean moons are tidally locked to Jupiter, but they are not blasted by radiation.

        Actually, they are. And it is a major source of headaches for probes we have sent to Jupiter. Jupiter has a very strong magnetosphere, which has given rise to radiation belts much like Earth's Van Allen belts only much more so. And at least the inner Galilean moons are right in the middle of these radiation belts.

      • by MillionthMonkey ( 240664 ) on Wednesday February 22, 2017 @06:46PM (#53914213)
        One thing you're forgetting is that these stars have very low gravity, so when they throw flares they get a lot further out into space than they do on the sun. Typically the incident radiation will be low for the reasons you described, but when a planet orbits through a flare it gets zapped really hard. Meanwhile, orbiting the sun, we are so unaffected by flares that when we saw one, we thought it was the Russians jamming our radar.

        People who get excited about aliens living on planets orbiting dwarf stars are kidding themselves. These stars are a dime a dozen and make up more than 90% of all stars, their light is more strongly affected by planetary transits, and they tend not to gobble up their innermost planets when forming. It's no wonder we find exoplanets around them all the time. But there is nobody interesting living on any of them. You can really only trust type F and G stars with life. Larger stars explode so fast their planets haven't even had time to solidify, and smaller stars have to be hugged so closely that the planet is affected by the star's fickle weather patterns.
  • by jfdavis668 ( 1414919 ) on Wednesday February 22, 2017 @02:31PM (#53912585)
    How about: Bashful, Doc, Dopey, Happy, Sleepy, Sneezy and Grumpy?
  • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Wednesday February 22, 2017 @02:34PM (#53912605)

    Why would I not want to visit other planets that are the most likely so far to contain life?

    Simple - it's a Trappist!

    • If one of those planets is found to contain a lot of liquid water, we should name it Mon Calamari.

      "What star does Mon Calamari orbit again?"
      "It's One Trappist!"

  • by grebonoj ( 890593 ) on Wednesday February 22, 2017 @02:36PM (#53912623) Homepage
    Anyone note how similar this system is to the solar system in Firefly?
    • by mark-t ( 151149 )
      Except for the fact that the Firefly 'verse had "dozens of planets and hundreds of moons", sure. I'd say that to measure up to that, it would need at least 3 or 4 times as many rocky worlds as they've found in what seems to the habitable zone in the Trappist system, and probably have another dozen or two of gas giants in the habitable zone as well.
  • Alliance (Score:2, Funny)

    by queequeg1 ( 180099 )

    This must be where we eventually go to form the Alliance.

  • a small, ultra-cool star.

    What you talkin' 'bout, NASA?

  • by presidenteloco ( 659168 ) on Wednesday February 22, 2017 @03:38PM (#53913055)

    No seriously, we should set up a very large synthetic aperture array of telescopes on the far side of the moon to look at these and similar promising exoplanets in high resolution and spectroscopically etc.

    Yes. I know the far side of the moon isn't always dark, but half the time it is, and is shaded from Earth's light and our EM emissions etc.

    • Until we have manufacturing facilities on the moon (not happening this century), it's easier to just launch another space telescope.

    • EM transmissions are the only real issue, and does in fact make the far side of the moon an attractive location for radio telescopes. Anything more optical though is better off in orbit. Just don't look towards the Earth won't see any Earthlight, sunlight is a far more powerful, and we block that out easily enough.

      And orbiting has one *huge* benefit over anything built on a planetoid - you can keep your telescope pointed at the same spot indefinitely without any seismic disturbances, and those extremely

      • >And orbiting has one *huge* benefit over anything built on a planetoid - you can keep your telescope pointed at the same spot indefinitely without any seismic disturbances

        Except that Earth orbit involves having the Earth block your view a lot of the time, and the Moon can block or blind you, too.

        Solar orbit is a lot less convenient for repair missions, but you can get much, much longer undisturbed exposure times if that's what you're looking for.

  • The President doesn't want to hear about the possible presence of more aliens!

  • Pluto is a planet. I don't buy the #FakeAstronomy.
  • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Wednesday February 22, 2017 @04:05PM (#53913243) Journal

    spotted seven Earth-sized planets orbiting closely around a small star...39 light years away.

    That's where God keeps Earth's backups.

    I wonder how far back the oldest goes?

    • spotted seven Earth-sized planets orbiting closely around a small star...39 light years away.

      That's where God keeps Earth's backups.

      I wonder how far back the oldest goes?

      With seven of them? Clearly a weekly full and daily incrementals.

    • by wbr1 ( 2538558 )
      Lets find out:

      $sudo -u god mount -t godfs /dev/trappist1p1 /mnt/p1folder
      $Error: Username:god not in sudoers file

  • by little1973 ( 467075 ) on Wednesday February 22, 2017 @04:40PM (#53913499)

    Strong XUV irradiation of the Earth-sized exoplanets orbiting the ultracool dwarf TRAPPIST-1

    https://arxiv.org/abs/1605.015... [arxiv.org]

  • I've been working on putting structure to MIT's OCW courses and filling in the blanks where there's missing courses. If we all tried to just go through what is available out there now and focussed on propulsion, life support systems, systems engineering, etc, I think we could get ourselves off the planet and mining asteroids to build craft that could get to this system without having our work belong to any organizations that could keep it to themselves. I know that's quite collectivist for a capitalist, b
    • I'm having a very hard time seeing how a spacecraft could NOT contain an immense amount of patented tech. I don't think it's possible to make a patent-free spacecraft.

      Any craft that can reach a star system 39 light years away in a reasonable amount of time is also a fearsome weapon.

  • Just more useless busy-think as science goes down the rabbit hole of irrelevance. The scientific-industrial-complex makes sure this stuff is constantly in the news in order to justify expensive programs to the government and public.
  • decade"

    Awesome. That's sooner than we'll know if there's life on Mars

  • So when NASA tells us that invisible planets light years away are real we all clap, but when it tells us that climate change right here is happening some how it's all a big con?

    • One of these issues is hurting established business interests. The other not. That's the key difference.

  • And all the Moo players say 'Oh wow... why didn't I start in that system? Have to colonise that one first.'
  • by SharpFang ( 651121 ) on Wednesday February 22, 2017 @08:16PM (#53914661) Homepage Journal

    Seven planets - check.
    Exceptionally compact solar system - check.
    Exceptionally small star - check.

    Try to check if the sixth planet is a gas giant with five moons. Or try to determine if the second planet is purple!

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