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NASA announces seven ‘Earths’ found around one star, TRAPPIST-1

Jamie Seidel, February 23, 2017 6:00PM Herald Sun

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SEVEN Earth-sized worlds have been found orbiting* a single star 39 light-years* away. And these new worlds could hold life.

The small, red-dwarf star* TRAPPIST-1, which sits in the constellation* of Aquarius and is barely the size of Jupiter, was thought a year ago to have three planets in orbit around it.

This first discovery caused scientists to keep a close eye on the star. But now a study published in the science journal Nature has exposed a wealth* of worlds that had previously been thought of as rare.

An artist's idea of what the surface of the exoplanet TRAPPIST-1f may look like, based on available information on its diameter, mass and distance from the host star. Image: AP media_cameraAn artist’s idea of what the surface of the exoplanet TRAPPIST-1f may look like, based on available information on its diameter, mass and distance from the host star. Image: AP

NASA has just made this incredible announcement. Scientists made the discovery using the Spitzer space telescope, which is a NASA telescope launched in 2003 that is out in space.

All seven Earth-sized exoplanets are thought to be mostly made up of rock and could possibly support liquid water on their surfaces. An exoplanet is a planet that orbits a star outside our own solar system.

Three are close to the star and may be a little too hot to hold much liquid water.

One — the seventh — may be an ice world.

But three of them fall comfortably in the “habitable zone” — orbits neither too hot nor too cold.

That means it is strongly possible they could sustain* life as we know it here on earth.

“This is really the first time we have seven planets that we can say are in the terrestrial* zone, and it’s really, really surprising,” said study co-author and astronomer* at the Université de Liège in Belgium, Michaël Gillon.

“This star is extremely quiet compared to other very small stars,” Emmanual Jehin, a co-author on the study says.

“If we’re optimistic, at least five of the planets — maybe not the first and maybe not the last — but at least five could have some liquid water on the surface, if they have atmospheres and the right pressures.”

An artist’s idea of what the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system may look like, based on available data about their diameters, masses and distances from the host star. Picture: AP media_cameraAn artist’s idea of what the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system may look like, based on available data about their diameters, masses and distances from the host star. Picture: AP

Thomas Zurbuchen from NASA, said: “The discovery gives us a hint that finding a second Earth is not just a matter of if, but when. Are we alone out there, we are making a leap forward to answering this question.”

The takeaway* from all this is, “we’ve made a crucial step toward finding if there is life out there,” said the University of Cambridge’s Amaury Triaud, one of the researchers.

The potential for more Earth-size planets in our Milky Way galaxy is mind-boggling.

Following the announcement, NASA tweeted: “Finding life elsewhere is one of three overarching goals for @NASA science. We are in the middle of a ‘gold-rush’ of this research right now.”

SOME EXTRA FACTS

-Red dwarfs are the most common type of star in our galaxy.

-Up to 50 per cent of the Milky Way is made up of red dwarfs.

-TRAPPIST-1 is just 39 light years away, which is relatively close in space terms.

-Because TRAPPIST-1 is close, this opens up the opportunity for much more detailed observation of the planets when new space telescopes are launched.

-The James Webb Telescope will launch next year, which will replace the Hubble Telescope.

-Another specialist planet-hunting space telescope will also be launched in 2018, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite.

GLOSSARY

orbiting: move around in a loop

light years: a way to measure distance in space. One light-year is the distance light travels in a year.

red-dwarf star: a small and relatively cool type of star

constellation: a group of stars in a recognisable pattern

wealth: lots

sustain: support

terrestrial: on or relating to Earth

takeaway: the message to take from this

LISTEN TO TODAY’S STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES

Activity 1

Read the story carefully and answer these questions:

i. How many “earth-sized” worlds have been found?

ii. What does it mean when a planet can “sustain life”?

iii. Why are some of the new planets NOT able to sustain life?

iv. How many new planets could possibly sustain life?

v. Why do scientists think these planets may be able to sustain life?

vi. Why is this such an amazing discovery?

Time: allow 25 minutes to complete this task

Curriculum Links: Science

Extension: How do the atmosphere, the climate and water help to sustain life on earth?

Do some research to answer this question. Use the information that you have found to create three posters — one for atmosphere, one for climate and one for water — that will help younger students to understand this.

Time: allow 60 minutes to complete this task

Curriculum Links: Science

Activity 2 : Name Game

Give each of the new planets a name.

Name the planet and write sentences explaining why you think this is a good name.

Here are some links for information about how planets get their names.

https://starchild.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/StarChild/questions/question48.html

http://curious.astro.cornell.edu/about-us/56-our-solar-system/planets-and-dwarf-planets/general-questions/228-who-named-the-planets-and-who-decides-what-to-name-them-beginner

Time: allow 40 minutes to complete this task

Curriculum Links: Critical and Creative Thinking

Extension: As you have read in your research, planets have been named after Ancient Greek or Roman gods or goddesses.

Choose THREE of the gods or goddesses who have had a planet named after them. Find out more about each of them.

Write a report on your gods and goddesses.

Time: allow 60 minutes to complete this task

Curriculum Links: English, History

VCOP Activity

(Vocabulary, Connectives, Openers, Punctuation)

SPACEY Words

Can you identify any ‘spacey’ words from the article such as planet, telescope or NASA?

Extension: Write a narrative story about the first expedition to one of these new planets!

Time: allow 10-40 minutes to complete this task

Curriculum links: English, Big Write, VCOP

EXTRA RESOURCES

MISSION’S FIRST JUPITER PICTURES

SPACE IMAGES NEW WEAPON IN FIRE FIGHT

HOW TO LIVE TOGETHER ON MARS

RETURN TO EARTH

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