NASA Discovers Seven Earth-Like Planets that Could Contain Water or Life
Seven Earth-like planets have just been discovered orbiting an ultra-cool dwarf star (that's an official name, we're not just saying that) called TRAPPIST-1. Using the Spitzer Space Telescope, astronomers were able to identify these planets forty-light years (or 235 trillion miles) away in the nearby Aquarius constellation.
This is major news since these planets (or "exoplanets" since they're outside our solar system) are all similar to Earth and could very possibly contain oceans, and where there is water, there could be life. According to the press release from NASA, all seven planets have the potential to contain liquid water and three of the seven could even be habitable.
The exoplanets are so close together that if you were standing on one of them, you'd have a clear view of the others orbiting through the sky. In fact, the innermost planet completes an orbit in just 1.5 Earth days. The potential to see geographic features of other worlds is quite plausible, since the other planets would intermittently appear larger than the moon does to us Earth-dwellers.
The exoplanets may also be tidally locked, which means the same side of the planet is always facing the star. This would suggest that the different sides are in constant day or night, which could mean that their weather patterns include extreme temperature changes and strong winds.
NASA has a new telescope launching in 2018, called the James Webb, that could teach us even more about the TRAPPIST-1 system. The James Webb telescope will be able to detect the chemical fingerprints of water, methane, and oxygen in potential atmospheres. Unfortunately, we are nowhere near prepared to be able to visit these exoplanets, but the potential for alien life and space vacations is enough to keep me happy for the rest of the year.