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The NASA telescope reveals the largest batch of planets the size of the earth and the habitable area around a star

The NASA telescope reveals the largest batch of planets the size of the earth and the habitable area around a star

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope revealed the first known system of seven Earth-wing planets around a single star. Three of these planets are firmly located in the living area, the area around the parent star where a rocky planet is more likely to have liquid water.

The discovery sets a new record for the largest number of habitable zone planets found around a single star outside our solar system. All these seven planets could have liquid water - the key to life as we know it - in the right weather conditions, but the odds are the highest with the three in the living area.

This discovery could be an important piece in the puzzle of finding habitable environments, places conducive to life," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Agency's Science Missions Directorate in Washington. "Answering the question" are we alone "is a major scientific priority and finding as many planets as these for the first time in the habitable zone is a 
remarkable step towards achieving this goal

At about 40 light years (235 trillion miles) from Earth, the planetary system is relatively close to us in the constellation Aquarius. Because they are located outside our solar system, these planets are scientifically known as exoplanets.

This exoplanet system is called TRAPPIST-1, named for planets in transit and small Planetesimals telescope (TRAPPIST) in Chile. In May 2016, researchers using TRAPPIST announced that they had discovered three planets in the system. Spitzer confirmed the existence of two of these planets with the aid of several ground telescopes, including the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope, and discovered five others, thus increasing the number of known planets in the system To seven.

The new results were published Wednesday in the journal Nature and announced at a press briefing at NASA headquarters in Washington.

Using the Spitzer data, the team accurately measured the sizes of the seven planets and developed the first estimates of the masses of six of them, allowing them to estimate their density.

Depending on their density, all TRAPPIST-1 planets are likely to be rocky. Other observations will help not only determine if they are rich in water but also may reveal if anyone could have liquid water on their surfaces. The mass of the seventh and far-away exoplanet has not yet been estimated - scientists believe it could be an icy world, resembling a snowball, but other observations are needed.

"The seven wonders of TRAPPIST-1 are the first Earth-size planets that have been found in orbit around this type of star," said Michael Gillon, lead author of the paper and the lead researcher of the exoplanet TRAPPIST survey at The University of Liège, Belgium. "It is also the best target for studying the atmosphere of the potentially living worlds of the Earth."

Unlike our sun, star TRAPPIST-1 - classified as an ultra-cool dwarf - is so fresh that liquid water could survive on planets orbiting very close to it, closer to the planets of our solar system . The seven planetary orbits TRAPPIST-1 are closer to their star star than Mercury is to our sun. The planets are also very close to one another. If a person was on a surface of the planet, they could look at and see geological features or clouds of neighboring worlds that sometimes seemed larger than the moon in the Earth's sky.

The planets can also be closed to their star, meaning that the same side of the planet is always facing the star, so each side is either perpetual day or night. This could mean that they have quite different weather models from those on Earth, such as strong winds blowing on the day side for the night side, and extreme temperature changes.

Spitzer, an infrared telescope that drags the Earth as it orbits the sun, was well suited to study TRAPPIST-1 because the star shines brighter in infrared light, whose wavelengths are longer than the eye can see. In the fall of 2016, Spitzer observed TRAPPIST-1 almost continuously for 500 hours. Spitzer is positioned uniquely in its orbit to observe enough transitions - planets in front of the host star to reveal the complex architecture of the system. The engineers optimized Spitzer's ability to observe the planets in transit during Spitzer's "hot mission", which began after the satellite's coolant functioned as expected after the first five years of operation.

"This is the most exciting result I've seen in the 14-year Spitzer operation," said Sean Carey, director of NASA's Spitzer Science Center at Caltech / IPAC in Pasadena, California. "Spitzer will follow in the fall to refine our understanding of these planets so that the James Webb Space Telescope can follow.Other observations of the system are sure to reveal more secrets.

Following the discovery of Spitzer, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope initiated screening of four of the planets, including three within the habitable zone. These observations aim to evaluate the presence of swollen atmospheres, dominated by hydrogen, typical of gaseous worlds like Neptune, around these planets.

"The TRAPPIST-1 system offers one of the best opportunities over the next decade to study atmospheres around the Earth-sized planets," said Nikole Lewis, co-head of the Hubble study and astronomer at the Institute Of Space Telescope Science in Baltimore, Maryland. NASA's Kepler Space Telescope is also studying the TRAPPIST-1 system, measuring the tiny luminosity variations of the star due to transit planets. As a K2 mission, the spacecraft's observations will allow astronomers to refine the properties of known planets, as well as to search for other planets in the system. K2 observations conclude in early March and will be available on public archives.

Spitzer, Hubble et Kepler aideront les astronomes à planifier des études de suivi à l'aide du prochain télescope spatial James Webb de la NASA, qui sera lancé en 2018. Webb sera en mesure de détecter les empreintes chimiques de l'eau, du méthane, de l'oxygène, de l'ozone, Et d'autres composantes de l'atmosphère d'une planète. Webb analysera également les températures des planètes et les pressions de surface - facteurs clés pour évaluer leur habitabilité.

Spitzer, Hubble and Kepler will help astronomers plan follow-up studies using the next NASA James Webb Space Telescope to be launched in 2018. Webb will be able to detect chemical fingerprints of water, methane , Oxygen, ozone, and other components of the atmosphere of a planet. Webb will also analyze the temperatures of the planets and the surface pressures - key factors to assess their habitability.

The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, manages the mission of the Spitzer Space Telescope for the NASA Science Missions Directorate. Scientific activities are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center in Caltech, Pasadena, California. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Littleton, Colorado. The data is archived at the Infrared Science Archive hosted at Caltech / IPAC. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

Source: NASA


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