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Touring Trappist-1: 'Incredible' star system could host life

A dim dwarf star only 39 light-years away is circled by seven Earth-sized planets, including three that might be right for liquid water and perhaps, E.T.

Eric Mack
Eric Mack has been a CNET contributor since 2011. Eric and his family live 100% energy and water independent on his off-grid compound in the New Mexico desert. Eric uses his passion for writing about energy, renewables, science and climate to bring educational content to life on topics around the solar panel and deregulated energy industries. Eric helps consumers by demystifying solar, battery, renewable energy, energy choice concepts, and also reviews solar installers. Previously, Eric covered space, science, climate change and all things futuristic. His encrypted email for tips is ericcmack@protonmail.com.
Eric Mack
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Newly discovered star system has three 'Goldilocks' planets

All seven planets in the Trappist-1 system are Earth-sized. On top of that, three are in the habitable zone, so there's a chance they could harbor life.

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2 of 12 NASA

Trappist trippin'

NASA created this fantasy travel poster imagining how tourists or possibly colonists of the future might visit the Trappist-1 system, which astronomers just announced includes seven Earth-sized planets that could host water. At only 39 light-years away, scientists say the nearby system is our best bet for finding life beyond our solar system.

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3 of 12 NASA-JPL/Caltech

Lineup of Earth doppelgangers

A lineup of Trappist-1 planets from Trappist-1b in closest orbit to the star to Trappist-1h, with an orbit that's unconfirmed but believed to be the farthest. Trappist-1e, f and g are thought to have the best chance of supporting life.

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4 of 12 ESO/O. Furtak

If Jupiter were the sun...

This diagram compares the sizes of the newly discovered planets around the faint red star Trappist-1 with the Galilean moons of Jupiter and our inner solar system. All the planets found around Trappist-1 are of similar size to the Earth.

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5 of 12 NASA

Two systems compared

This chart compares the seven Trappist-1 planets with the planets of our inner solar system. Researchers first spotted exoplanets around the dim dwarf star in 2016, but recently discovered it's orbited by more Earth-like planets than originally thought.

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6 of 12 ESO/O. Furtak

Comparing orbits

This diagram compares the orbits of the newly discovered planets around the faint red star Trappist-1 with the Galilean moons of Jupiter our inner solar system. All the planets found around Trappist-1 orbit much closer to their star than Mercury is to the sun, but as their star is far fainter, they are exposed to similar levels of irradiation as Venus, Earth and Mars in the Solar System.

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7 of 12 NASA/JPL-Caltech

Water world

This artist's conception imagines what it might be like on the surface of Trappist-1f. The planet orbits in the habitable zone and is Earth-sized and probably rocky like our world. The side of the planet that permanently faces Trappist-1 could be covered by a large liquid ocean that might even support life.

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8 of 12 NASA

Trappist-1d

A close-up artist's rendering of Trappist-1d, which may have little to no water on its surface.

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9 of 12 NASA

Staring at a sun

This data plot shows infrared observations by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope of a system of seven planets orbiting the star Trappist-1.

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10 of 12 NASA/JPL-CalTech

Trappist transits

If we had a remarkably powerful telescope that could directly view the Trappist-1 system from Earth it might look something like this artist's rendering.

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11 of 12 ESO/N. Bartmann/spaceengine.org

Dwarf view

This artist's impression shows what Trappist-1 and the other planets in its system might look like from a vantage point just above one of the seven Earth-sized planets in the system.

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12 of 12 ESO/IAU and Sky & Telescope

Map to other worlds

Trappist-1 is located in the direction of the constellation Aquarius. The red ultracool dwarf star is too faint to see with small telescopes, but should you ever find yourself in control of Hubble or another powerful telescope, this star map shows you where to point it to find the fascinating star system.

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