Think back 40 years ago. If your memory needs some jogging, Jimmy Carter was sworn in as the 39th president of the United States, New York City had a blackout that lasted 25 hours, the first Apple II computers went on sale, Star Wars IV: A New Hope premiered, Elvis Presley died, and Orlando Bloom was born. Suffice it to say it was an interesting year. Right now, if you were standing on the surface of one of the planets in the Trappist-1 solar system and you looked at Earth, you would see people jamming to the Billboard number one song New Kid in Town by the Eagles.
That’s right, this week astronomers announced that they discovered seven planets orbiting around an ultra-cool dwarf star only 40 light-years away.
And that’s cool in temperature terms. The seven planets are more near to the star than Mercury is to the Sun, but the star is also cooler than our twinkle-twinkle little star. This means that these planets could potentially hold liquid water, depending on their atmospheres and three of the planets are firmly within this habitable zone.
Researchers in Chile found this star and it’s squad by looking through a telescope at the nearby solar system. In May 2016, after measuring the dimming in the star’s light (indicating an object passing over it), they announced that they had discovered three planets in the system. With the help of other telescopes, they were able to find all seven of the planets.
The planets are all approximately the size of Earth and, based on their density, six of them are most likely rocky and the furthest planet may be more akin to a snowball. They are likely tidally locked, meaning that half of the sphere is in perpetual day and the other in perpetual night. The sickest bit? Because the planets are all really close together (about the distance from the Earth to the moon) from one planet you would be able to see the other planets. But not as specks in the sky like in our solar system, but more similar to how we see a full moon from Earth.
So what are the astronomers’ next steps? Gather data about the different atmospheres of the planets and then find out if there are any signs of life on the planet. Looks like the dreams of George Lucas and nerds everywhere might be more of possibility than thought in 1977!