by Connor Robinson
The search for extraterrestrial life is one of great scientific and historical importance. A recent discovery outside of our solar system may help answer the infamous question, “Are we alone in the universe?”
Astronomers viewing the TRAPPIST-1 solar system have found seven planets that orbit the star in an area habitable to life as we know it on earth. The system is 39 light years away from our own solar system, extremely close in terms of the universe, but incredibly far for missions we are capable launching to reach. The star itself is cool in temperature compared to our own, and the planets orbit as close to it as Mercury orbits the sun.
Planets outside of our solar system are known as exoplanets, and finding ones that could be habitable is a difficult task even with high powered satellites on the ground and orbiting earth. To view the planets, the satellite looks for changes in the amount of light the given off as the planet or multiple planets pass between it and the telescope. The planets of the Trappist system are added to the list of habitable exoplanets near earth, adding seven more candidates to the previous 36 possibilities. With the launch of the James Webb telescope next year that is ten times more powerful than Hubble, hundreds or possibly thousands more habitable exoplanets could be found, opening the door to exploring other possible areas life could be present outside of our solar system.