A newfound solar system just 39 light years away contains seven warm, rocky, Earthlike planets, scientists say.
The findings were announced On Feb. 22 at a news conference at NASA Headquarters in Washington. Using both ground and space-based telescopes, the international reasearch team said they have discovered a solar system with seven Earth-sized planets revolving around a small star (TRAPPIST-1).
The discovery, which has thrilled astronomers, has raised hopes that the hunt for alien life beyond the solar system could start much sooner than previously thought, with the next generation of telescopes that are due to switch on in the next decade.
This discovery outside of our solar system is rare because the planets have the winning combination of being similar in size to Earth and being all temperate, meaning they could have water on their surfaces and potentially support life.
“This is the first time that so many planets of this kind are found around the same star,” said Michaël Gillon, lead study author and astronomer at the University of Liège in Belgium.
The researchers hope to know whether there is life on the planets “within a decade,” said Amaury Triaud at the Institute of Astronomy at Cambridge University. “I think we’ve made a crucial step in finding out if there’s life out there,” he said. “If life managed to thrive and releases gases in a similar way as on Earth, we will know.”
Life may begin and evolve differently on other planets, so finding the gases that indicate life is key, the researchers added.
For years, evidence has accumulated that the Milky Way galaxy is full of Earthlike planets. The discovery of seven such worlds around a single, faint star suggests that the likelihood of finding life within the habitable zones of other star systems could be much greater than previously thought.