The search for life in the universe has become more interesting.

The search for life in the universe has become more interesting.

The discovery of several Earth-sized objects around TRAPPIST-1 means that the likelihood of having life within the habitable zones of other star systems increases.

The discovery of seven planets similar to Earth in size and revolving around a star 40 light years away is great news for exoplanetary hunters. But three objects in the habitat zone of a cold dwarf TRAPPIST-1 increase the chances of detecting alien life forms.

“Finding so many potentially inhabited planets in one star is great news,” says Lisa Kaltenagger, director of the institute of Karl Sagan at Cornell University. “In our solar system there are only two planets in the habitable zone (Earth and Mars), and the new system has three at once. This is still a record. ”

Despite the similarity in size, they do not necessarily have to resemble our planet. Some groups are going to continue observations, so the most interesting is yet to come.

“Innovative discoveries await us,” said Thomas Barkley, director of the Kepler Guest Watch program. “It turns out that literally next to us there are potentially habitable objects that we can explore in the coming years. We have so many opportunities to learn more. We are expanding not only the understanding of our system, but we can also study someone else’s. ”

Planetary Hunter and Professor of Planetary Science and Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sarah Signer, says that since TRAPPIST-1 was discovered, astronomers have used every available telescope for additional observations. The Spitzer Space Telescope contributed to the creation of studies that confirm the existence of these worlds. And this is interesting, since Spitzer was never intended to observe exoplanets. Hubble tracks 6 secret planets to discover the atmosphere. Observations in infrared and wide-angle camera 3 will provide important information about the nature of objects. In addition, the Hubble image spectrograph has already tracked two planets in the ultraviolet region of the spectrum to determine the amount of radiation that comes from the parent star.

But the best observatories have not yet begun work.

“Searching for atmospheric bio-signatures means finding ozone that will protect the surface and indicate the presence of biology with reduced gas (for example, methane). The James Webb Space Telescope (JSWT), which will be launched next year, is capable of this, ”said Kaltenagger.

The search for life in the universe has become more interesting.

The diagram in the top row shows the seven planets TRAPPIST-1, indicating the orbital periods, distance from the star, mass and radius (compared to Earth).

A study of atmospheres JSWT will estimate the content of greenhouse gases, as well as provide information about the surface of the planet.

Another TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) mission will attempt to discover small planets with bright stars located close to our system so that they can be explored.

“The new discovery played the role of some tasting for TESS, which will begin work in 2018,” said Barkley. “The goal is to find new worlds that can be explored with telescopes like JSWT. I hope that in the next ten years we will deal with the chemistry of the planets, similar to those that revolve around TRAPPIST-1. ”

He added that transit spectroscopy is required to search for life around a star.

“We use the starlight, seeping through the atmosphere of the planet, to learn about the chemical composition,” - he said. - “We are looking for clear signs of chemical evidence of biological processes. It can be methane, oxygen and carbon dioxide. In the near future, these studies will be available with James Webb. ” Barkley says that we have not yet seen all the discovered planets. Astronomers use proxy observations, such as transits, to explain their characteristics. But all this will change thanks to new methods and observatories.

“In the future, we want to get their images,” he continued. - “This will be realized through the use of the coronagraph method, which blocks the starlight and gives a look at the planet. Future missions like Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope will allow it. ”

The launch of WFIRST is expected in the mid-2020s.

The search for life in the universe has become more interesting.

Comparison of the TRAPPIST-1 system with the solar one.

Kaltenagger explained that the new discovery will not change the place in which astronomers are looking for Earth-like exoplanets.

“We have information about stars that may have rocky planets,” he said. - "Now we have found three of them at the required distance."

Thomas Shurbuchen from NASA headquarters says that this discovery will be an important step in trying to answer the question: “Are people alone in the universe?”.

“Now this is what I think about before bed. After all, there may be worlds like ours. And this is a challenge for the humanity that we are taking, ”he said.

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