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Just In Time: Scientists Discover Seven Earth-Like Planets Beyond Our Solar System

Have current affairs got you jonesing for a fresh new start in a far-off land?

You may be in luck.

Scientists have discovered seven potentially life-hosting Earth-sized planets orbiting a tiny star not too far away.

The planets – which orbit a dwarf star called Trappist-1 about 40 light years from Earth – offer the first realistic opportunity to search for alien life, as they could be the right temperature and distance from their sun to harbour oceans of water.

“This is the first time so many planets of this kind are found around the same star,” said Michael Gillon of the University of Liege in Belgium, who is the leader of the international team that has been observing Trappist-1.

“I think that we have made a crucial step toward finding if there is life out there,” added fellow researcher Amaury H.M.J. Triaud of the University of Cambridge in England. “Here, if life managed to thrive and releases gases similar to that we have on Earth, then we will know.”

The Trappist planets may be roughly the size of Earth, but the star is quite different from our sun. Astronomers are calling it an “ultracool dwarf,” as it has only one-twelfth the mass of our sun and a surface temperature of 4,150 degrees Fahrenheit (compared to our sun’s 10,000 degrees of heat).

If its planets – so far named TRAPPIST-1b, c, d, e, f, g, and h) – were placed within our solar system, all seven would lie within the orbit of Mercury, and they circle the star quickly.

“They form a very compact system,” Dr. Gillon said, “the planets being pulled close to each other and very close to the star.”

Scientists say we may know within a decade whether any of the planets are actually inhabitable, but for now, the possibilities stemming from this extraordinary discovery seem endless.

Check out NASA's livestream regarding the announcement below.

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h/t The New York Times, IFLScience 

Banner Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech


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