Yes, We have done it again. A new planetary system around a distant star has been found there is a lot of exciting stuff that is going to come along in the next few days. This news is not new (more than 6 months old). So is why now and why is there such a hullaballoo about it? Read more to find out.
TRAPPIST stands for TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope . The system finds planets when they move in front of their native star. When this happens the brightness of the parent star goes down just a little bit. That is enough for the astronomers to figure out the size of the planet and it’s position. Such discoveries are confirmed when these events are seen at a regular frequency. Sometimes, multiple events are seen in a short span of time and this leads to the discovery of multiple planets at the same time. The technique is borrowed. Double or binary star systems are found using the same way. When one star comes in front of the other the brightness of the whole system reduces and when they are side by side, the brightness increases. This lead astronomers to think of alien planets and if we can find ones which are very far away.
The TRAPPIST telescope is located in the Chilean mountains. It is a remotely operated optical telescope which means astronomers sit at home and command it, while the telescope works through the chill and almost non-existent atmosphere of the high mountains. This is very important as it keeps the sensitive telescope optics away from Atmospheric turbulence, light pollution and keeps the equipment from heating up. The telescope observes a narrow star field which has several candidates and when images captured over a period of time are put into a timelapse, some stars look like flickering festival lights. Bingo, we have a new planetary system. This may sound easy, but is a very meticulous process and astronomers have to be really careful with the calibration of their instruments.
The TRAPPIST -1 system is located at a distance of 12 parsec or 39 light years or basically light takes about 39 years to reach the Earth from TRAPPIST-1 even when it moves at a speed of 300,000 km/s. The system consists of 7 inner planets (compared to 4 around the Sun) and the star is not much bigger than Jupiter itself. That’s right, not much bigger than Jupiter. Actually, Jupiter could have been a star but it could never gather enough mojo (Hydrogen) in the beginning to begin thermonuclear fusion. So now we have a big bully in the solar system which keeps on bothering everything else and sometimes saves the weaker ones (Earth) from imminent danger. The crashing of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 on Jupiter in July 1994 is a good example of that. Find more info HERE
The planets which interest the astronomers the most are D,E,F in the sequence as they seem to be in the goldilocks zone which means they have the correct distance from the star for water to be in three states of liquid matter (Solid, Liquid and Gaseous). Any further information about the mass, atmosphere and the orbit of these planets will help the astronomers greatly in understanding the evolution alien systems and our planet better. The more the merrier.
TRAPPIST – 1 system was first found by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in July 2016. Once the data is confirmed, help from other agencies is sought for to eliminate any abbreviated anomalies. When multiple agencies (minimum 2) confirm the finding, the information is made public.
If you wish to dig deeper, there is a lot of information about the whole project and discovery which you can access by visit the official website by clicking HERE
In the meanwhile, watch a video