NASA has released the first raw data from the Kepler space observatory from its time observing the TRAPPIST-1 system. Located roughly 40 light-years away, the system is notable for having three planets orbiting its Dwarf Star which are considered to be within the habitable zone. This means that these planets could harbor both liquid water and even life.
The TRAPPIST-1 system, a whopping 235 trillion miles away, is one crowded place. With seven planets in all, each are closer to their host star than Mercury is to our own. It’s so crowded, that each orbiting planet lies in such close proximity to one another that you, if standing on a planet, could look up into the sky and see the geological features of a passing planet. But, you ask, if they’re so close to the star how do any of them possibly have liquid water? Well, unlike our own yellow-dwarf star, an ultra-cool dwarf star sits in the center of the TRAPPIST-1 system. It only gives off 45% of the heat that our own Sun does, meaning planets can sit much closer to it without becoming fiery wastes.
Above, you can see the first ever images of the TRAPPIST-1 system. The animation shows 60 photos taken once a minute for an hour, which were taken during Keppler’s 74-day observation of the Trappist-1 system.
“Called a target pixel file, the image covers an area of 11 square pixels or 44 square arcseconds of the sky, this area is equivalent in size to holding up a grain of sand at arms length towards the sky.” – NASA
Though you may scoff at this small collection of pixels, they’re our first look at a light source that takes 40 years to reach our eyes, and they may be our best bet to study the atmospheres of Earth-size planets. With the James Webb Space Telescope launching in 2018, scientists will be able to use its infrared cameras to better study how and what these planets really are.
Images: Space, NASA