In February, scientists from the European Southern Observatory and NASA announced the discovery of a new solar system —TRAPPIST-1. It has seven Earth-sized planets orbiting a dwarf star, three of which are in the star’s habitable zone. Although TRAPPIST-1 is 40 light-years away, its remarkable similarities to our own solar system make the discovery very exciting to scientists. Armed with insights we’ve gathered about our own solar system in recent decades, we have the knowledge and resources to study TRAPPIST-1 — and possibly find life beyond our own planet.
Scientists also believe that some of the planets in TRAPPIST-1 are “tidally locked” to their star. That means one side of the planet constantly faces their sun, bathing it in perpetual daylight, while the other side is always in the dark. While that doesn’t sound much like the life we know on our planet, experts believe it wouldn’t completely negate the possibility of life: what really matters is the atmosphere. We won’t have to wait too long to gain further insight into kind of atmosphere these planets have: once the James Webb Space Telescope launches in October of next year, scientists will be able to study the planets more in-depth.
Our knowledge of how tidally locked planets in our own solar system manage such extreme temperatures — based on what we’ve already learned from Neptune and Jupiter — will also lend itself to a better understanding of how the TRAPPIST-1 planets work. Granted, everything that we know about life stems from our understanding of life on Earth—where we experience both day and night - it’s wholly possibly that in planets where a diurnal cycle isn’t the norm, life develops very differently.
Kemo D. 7