No-one knows how to drum up excitement before an announcement quite like NASA. This morning they announced the discovery of seven Earth-sized planets orbiting a star about 40 light years away from Earth.
The system of exoplanets orbits Trappist-1, a low-mass, cool star. Initially, the team of scientists found three exoplanets in the Aquarius constellation, which prompted them to look closer – later finding the other four.
University of Auckland astrophysicist Dr Nicholas Ratttenbury joined Stuff.co.nz for a live chat, answering questions from the public about the discovery.
He said the discovery was exciting as three of the planets were within the “habitable zone”. “This is very unusual and raises all sorts of interesting questions on whether life might be more – or less – likely to arise in such a planetary system.”
Over on TVNZ’s Breakfast, Dr Rattenbury said that “given the fact that we now know that planets are not rare, they are common around stars in our own galaxy, it seems almost impossible that this is the only planet in the entire universe on which life has evolved”.
AUT professor of applied ecology Steve Pointing told The AM Show that finding so many planets in a single solar system “opens up the possibility that for the first time we could be able to survey planets where life has evolved independently”.
Stardome Observatory’s Dr Grant Christie told NZ Herald Focus that “nobody really predicted that you’d find so many terrestrial, Earth-like planets in such close proximity to us”.
“It always gets ramped up, NASA are always great about putting out these little teasers and you never know quite what they’re going to come out with. I was really impressed with this, this is a seriously important discovery…this discovery is really one out of the box.”
Dr Christie said within a decade we might know whether the planets could host life. The James Webb space telescope, to be launched next year, would be the likely instrument to find out, he said.
The discovery was widely covered by NZ media, including:
Stuff.co.nz: Live chat: What do newly discovered seven earth-sized planets mean for us?
Radio NZ: Nasa discovers 7 Earth-sized planets orbiting star
NZ Herald: NZH Focus: Nasa discovers new solar system
Newshub: Solar system with Earth-like planets a fresh chance for new life
TVNZ: NASA discovers seven Earth-sized planets in record find
The Wireless: The truth is out there