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The Earth-like planets of Trappist-1 already appear in sci-fi

Scientists say they've found the best place to search for life beyond our solar system. The first science fiction story about it has already been published, in the journal Nature.

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Intrigued by Wednesday's announcement of Trappist-1, a star system only 39 light-years away that hosts at least seven Earth-like planets?

The possible view from a Trappist-1 planet

ESO/M. Kornmesser

You might enjoy getting lost in a short science fiction story on it. Yep, one already exists.

"The Terminator," by Swiss science fiction novelist Laurence Suhner, takes place four centuries in the future on Trappist-1e, renamed Nuwa by colonists from Earth who still await peaceful contact with the natives of the Trappist-1 system.

The journal Nature quietly shared the story on Wednesday, the same day it published a much-cited paper on the newly discovered, potentially habitable planets in the intriguing Trappist-1 system. Astronomers call them our best bet to find life beyond the pull of our sun.

Here's a quick taste:

"I stand on the deck a moment, fascinated by the ocean that darkens before me as it disappears into the night. Myriad stars riddle the waves: bioluminescence. Nuwa's ocean abounds with life forms that constantly move between the two hemispheres, following the currents and the movement of the violent winds generated by the contrast in the temperatures near the surface. These winds, along with the moderating power of the ocean, guarantee the existence of habitable regions on either side of the terminator, cooling the exposed side of Nuwa and heating the dark one."

While it's a little unusual for a top scientific journal to publish a work of science fiction, Nature is no stranger to the practice. The journal has regularly published a science fiction column since 2007, and the Trappist-1 planets really beg for the sci-fi treatment. The seven planets tightly circling a dim, ultracool dwarf star are much closer to each other than the planets in our solar system, and at least three of them might be just as habitable as Earth.

"The Trappist-1 system, with its short interplanetary distances, makes space opera possible," writes Suhner, who read the research paper before penning her story. "Traveling from Nuwa to Pangu takes a week. A lilliputian system where worlds are like neighboring countries."

Suhner said collaborating with scientists is essential to her work.

"Integrating advanced research into my texts allows me to talk about science while keeping the sense of wonder and awe intact," she wrote in a Nature blog post about the short story. "This is one of the main advantages of science fiction."

Here's to more sci-fi set around Trappist-1, because while 39 light-years is close on the cosmic scale, it's still out of reach today. If we're ever going to get there, it's going take lots of ingenuity, imagination and inspiration. Science fiction seems like a good place to start cultivating all three.

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