An international team of astronomers has revealed three new planets with sizes similar to those of Earth. The new planets are orbiting a star located just 40 light years from us. Scientists identify three potentially habitable planets, according to a study published in the journal Nature.
The ultracool dwarf star, known as TRAPPIST-1 isn’t the kind of star scientists expected to be a center for planets. The newly discovered planets are detected by a telescope in Chile, created specifically for this purpose. The light from the star darkens with a specific frequency, which is the result of the planets orbiting around it. The star size is one-eighth of the Sun, half of temperature and about 2000 times more dim. TRAPPIST-1 is red, barely larger than Jupiter and too dim to be seen with the naked eye or even amateur telescopes from Earth. For the first time scientists have observed any planets orbiting a star with such small size and low brightness
According to scientists, the third planet (which is farthest from the star) is located in the so-called habitable zone. The other two planets (because of their proximity to the star) are probably permanently facing the star with one of their sides. However, if the planets have atmospheres and oceans, the heat from the star should be well distributed and certain areas could be suitable for a life as we know it.
To determine the presence of atmosphere, scientists use spectral analysis of the light from the star in the phase of darkening. They believe that they could study the composition of the planet, looking for markers of organic molecules in the spectrum of light.
This discovery opens the door for the study of ultracool dwarfs, which are common in the Milky Way. Around three quarters of all the stars and 15% of the closest to the Sun stars are exactly ultracool dwarfs.
With help from the new telescopes, scientists believe that soon, within a human life, they will be able to study in detail the atmosphere and composition of these three planets and possibly even will send a probe to them.
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