back to article Pack your bags! NASA spots SEVEN nearby Earth-sized alien worlds

NASA has discovered a mini solar system of seven Earth-sized planets orbiting a small cool dwarf star, including three within the Goldilocks zone where liquid water is possible. Last year, a telescope in Chile – dubbed the TRAPPIST aka the TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope – spotted two planets orbiting an …

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  2. Oh Homer
    Pint

    Trappist?

    Does that mean it has beer?

    Woohoo!

    1. Simon Harris Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Trappist?

      It would be nice if they could name each planet after a Trappist beer.

    2. imski

      Re: Trappist?

      Belgian astroboffins, nuff said

  3. sjsmoto
    IT Angle

    I tried the "travel poster" link and it shows the message "Web application could not be started" along with all sorts of info like the application root directory, environment variables, user and group info, ruby config settings, and load and library paths. To me that's like showing phpinfo() for a crashed php page. Why would it do this?

    1. John 104

      @sjsmoto

      Because someone has debugging turned on like a knob.

      1. Michael Thibault

        Does the knob go to 11?

    2. illiad

      works now... using palemoon..

  4. John 104

    So... in a thousand years when we are all dead, someone else will get to go check it all out. Great.

    1. JLV Silver badge
      Joke

      I'd rather sit it out for a while. Or at least until I change out of today's red shirt.

  5. iLurker

    Someone will be beaming "mars attacks" and soapie TV shows to them by now. We're all doomed

    1. tacitust

      They might be thinking the same thing after they see that nonsense.

  6. VinceH Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Grr. Some back of envelope maths, and I can't fit these planets into the Titius-Bode sequence. This annoys me. Still, there could be missing bodies, or other information we don't have (yet) that will change that.

    1. tacitust

      Well, this will be a very good test to see if that hypothesis holds up (and it is only a hypothesis). The interesting thing is that the planets are close enough together that Spitzer can detect variations in their orbits every time they pass in front of the star. There's a lot of interaction, yet they have very likely been in stable orbits for billions of years.

      One thing's for sure. We're going to learn a ton of orbital mechanics and planetary science just from this one system alone, and now we know where to look, we're going to find a lot more like it.

    2. Mage Silver badge

      Orbits

      They do have interesting resonant orbits.

      The "goldilocks" zone might be too close to star, so planet(s) might be tidally locked or periodically hit by solar flares. Both mitigate against life.

      The Talmud suggests there are 18,000 planets with life. Given number of stars in the Milky Way, that might be a serious under-estimate.

      We are only at the beginning of this kind of search. The James Webb telescope will allow search for biological or industrial activity via better spectroscopic analysis.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Angel

    Frame dragging

    Too bad they're all tidally locked. We need Superman to fly around them all really really fast to apply some decent angular momentum. That works, right?

    1. DropBear Silver badge
      Terminator

      Re: Frame dragging

      Nah, you just settle down around the Terminator and keep commuting between the dark and lit side daily - such a precious opportunity to define your own arbitrarily long diurnal cycle should be cherished, not squandered! (NO, not that terminator... -->)

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        Re: Frame dragging

        You could do that here if you "settled" far enough north. or south.

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  9. bep

    Tides and stuff

    Isn't part of the current theory of why advanced life evolved here that the tides, night and day and the seasons were important. These planets will lack all that. So maybe bacteria, Fred the chimp not so much?

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Tides and stuff

      Those planets are close enough together that tides will be ... interesting.

    2. Martin Budden

      Re: Tides and stuff

      Pretty sure our magnetic field is also important, I wonder if any of these planets* have magnetic fields?

      *not actually planets according to the official definition.

      1. Indolent Wretch

        Re: Tides and stuff

        Very important for protection but then their star is a weak flame indeed compared to our own.

    3. Voland's right hand Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: Tides and stuff

      Not necessarily - in a system that crowded you may have one or more with large enough satellites to prevent it from being tidal locked to the star.

    4. tacitust

      Re: Tides and stuff

      It's very hard to put any meat on any hypothesis when you're working with a sample of one -- Earth. Those who favor the "rare earth hypothesis" will point to all the factors that created Earth's environment, from the large moon, plate tectonics, Jupiter's role in sweeping up the debris in the inner Solar System, the Sun's stability, and on and on.

      But, in reality, it's all conjecture until we have more sample data to work with, since we don't yet even have a clear understanding of the events that led to abiogenesis here on Earth. We don't know which conditions are required, which conditions simply improve the chances, and which conditions have no impact. If life on Earth got started among the deep ocean fumaroles as some scientists propose, it could reduce the number of required conditions quite considerably, given the protective covering of miles of water.

      That doesn't really help when considering the advent of intelligent life, but one step at a time...!

    5. FozzyBear Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: Tides and stuff

      "Isn't part of the current theory of why advanced life evolved here "

      Considering society today with the bigotry, wars, religious fanaticism and cults, "our" love of social media, reality TV shows, soap operas. Economic markets that are not economic. Leaders who can't lead, managers who can't manage. Politics worldwide that enables the incompetent to rise to the top and where ignorance is no barrier to bending policies and laws to your viewpoint.

      The argument can be made that it still hasn't.

  10. DougS Silver badge

    44 million years for a jet to get there

    If a US airline was operating that flight they'd still only serve a snack.

    1. vir

      Re: 44 million years for a jet to get there

      Plus a good couple of million years on the tarmac waiting for the de-icing truck to arrive.

    2. Doctor_Wibble
      Angel

      Re: 44 million years for a jet to get there

      And why a jet? Silly idea, there's no air in space for the fuel to burn.

      Use a C5 instead, at least you can attach some solar panels to recharge the battery on the way.

      1. LaeMing Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: 44 million years for a jet to get there

        Not an awful lot of sunlight out there! Most of the way,anyway.

        1. Doctor_Wibble
          Facepalm

          Re: 44 million years for a jet to get there

          Damn it you're right! So three, maybe four days longer?

          I'll pack some extra sandwiches.

      2. tacitust

        Re: 44 million years for a jet to get there

        I suspect one would like to get there before the Universe ends in heat death...

        1. Doctor_Wibble
          Windows

          Re: 44 million years for a jet to get there

          Kids these days, no patience, it's all rush rush rush!

    3. James Cullingham

      Re: 44 million years for a jet to get there

      As long as there are lemon-soaked paper napkins

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I always love the way people assume life evolved on earth. No prebiotic soup, inhospitable conditions and not enough time. Plus we can't actually make a cell WITH intelligent design let alone without it. Then we have the problem of how error correcting coding in DNA got there by chance. Philosophically those clinging to the Darwinian model are no better than someone observing a firing squad of a million shooters all missing the condemned man and insisting they did so by chance... and please before some Dawkins fanboy trots out the mantra ' but evolution is a fact' please remember that the only field tests of bacterial evolution show that any animal over 4kg will not produce enough beneficial mutations to explain the rapid speciation in the fossil record.

    1. tacitust

      Really, a creationist?

      Deny it all you like, but evolution *is* a fact. There is more than enough evidence for evolution for that fact to be non-controversial expect with people with a religious agenda. Your efforts -- and indeed, the efforts of the entire Creationist community -- are as effective as trying to demolish Mount Everest with a spoon.

      By the way, not too long ago, people like you were poo-pooing the idea that there were billions of other planets in the galaxy. That turned out well...

      Back to the subject in hand. It's way to early to know whether there is a chance life exists on these freshly discovered planets. First we have to detect and analyze the gases in their atmospheres (if any) and then we will have to figure out what we find could have been the byproduct of life as opposed to non-biological chemical processes.

      This is an important discovery, but there is still a long way to go and a lot of hard work ahead for NASA scientists and other astronomers. Meanwhile Creationists will do what they do best -- remain armchair critics.

    2. vir

      Good troll. 4/5.

      1. Youngone Silver badge

        I'm not sure I'd give it 4/5, it's just not that original, but it's kind of exciting to come across a real live creationist in the comments of El Reg.

        If we're all nice and quiet, and don't move about too much, he might not be scared away, and we can observe him to see how the Creationist lives in the wild.

        1. Michael Thibault

          >we can observe him to see how the Creationist lives in the wild.

          And which member of the flock is the Creationist? Oh, I see! Never mind.

    3. Mephistro Silver badge
      Facepalm

      @ AC

      "we can't actually make a cell WITH intelligent design"

      FYI We're more than half way there.

      "let alone without it"

      If you provide an Earth sized laboratory and the funds to run it for a few dozen million years, then you can be pretty sure lots of those cells will be created, and without any Intelligent Design involved.

      "Then we have the problem of how error correcting coding in DNA got there by chance"

      In exactly the same way other characteristics of living beings got there, that is, through chance and Evolution. Pre-biotic evolution in this case.

      "please remember that the only field tests of bacterial evolution show that any animal over 4kg will not produce enough beneficial mutations to explain the rapid speciation in the fossil record."

      Citation required, and not a citation from some Creationist hellholeecho room, please. While you are at it, please explain also how the Hell you translate "bacterial evolution over a few decades" into "any animal bigger than 4Kg over millions of years". TY in advance.

      I know that educating the wilfully ignorant is impossible, but there is a small chance some young/innocent reader might be misled by your BS, so I'm posting this answer to your comment in order to minimize that risk.

      Have a nice day.

    4. Winkypop Silver badge
      Devil

      Next on Thrust:

      All brontosauruses are thin at one end, much much thicker in the middle and then thin again at the far end.'

      'That is my theory, it is mine and belongs to me, and I own it and what it is, too.'

      Anne Elk

    5. JLV Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Yup, all this scientific hypothesizing is waaaay less credible than this little jewel, straight outta the Good Book:

      http://creation.com/kangaroos-dinosaurs-and-eden

      We are also told in Genesis 1:29-30 that Adam and Eve, and all the animals, were to have vegetarian diets. So T. rex was originally a herbivore!

      I see you are in good company, Sir Ignoramus!

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        T-rex was just an easter egg silly!

        A pretend skeleton put in the ground for shits and giggles

      2. Youngone Silver badge

        Holy Moly!!

        Has anyone else read that link that JLV put up? It's awesome. I haven't had such a good laugh in ages.

    6. Patrician

      Evolution is a *fact*no matter what alternative creationists might want to fantasise about; there is enough proof all around you if you would just take your creationist blindfold off.

    7. Doctor_Wibble
      Mushroom

      > No prebiotic soup, inhospitable conditions and not enough time.

      i.e. one damp packet of minestrone, a draughty workshop and a kettle that takes for sodding ever to boil.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "The enormous power of the telescope will enable astronomers to see into the atmospheres of the planets and look for evidence of oxygen, ozone and methane – considered possible signs of life – and will also calculate their temperatures. [...]"

    The planets' sun is a "cool" one (as in temperature) - so the telescope will have a clearer view of the planets than it would for a sun like ours.

  13. AceRimmer1980
    Alien

    12 Parsecs away?

    Why, that's just enough time to do a Kessel run.

  14. toutatus
    Alien

    Just as long as the first person there isn't named Warden.....

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How Accurate?

    I thought there were 12 Colonies of Kobol and not 7.

    Did they look closely enough?

    1. Katie Saucey
      Alien

      Re: How Accurate?

      The 12 colonies were spread out among 4 stars in the Cyrannus star system Helios Alpha, Beta, Delta and Gama

      Here's the simple diagram

      As with everything sci-fi, fans have made numerous elaborate and visually pleasing posters/infographics complete with shipping lanes moons, outposts etc.

  16. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Alien

    Meanwhile, around Trappist 1...

    Damnit, now the humans know where we are...

  17. Winkypop Silver badge
    Trollface

    So wrong!

    "dwarf star, including three within the Goldilocks zone"

    Every fool knoa that Snow White hangs out with the 7 dwarfs, and NOT Goldilocks!

    1. tacitust

      Re: So wrong!

      Mixed metaphors are so last century. Mixed fairy tales are where it's at!

    2. LDS Silver badge

      Re: So wrong!

      So we have the names for the seven planets ready.... oh wait, Disney copyright issues...

  18. Michael Thibault

    "100 miracle project"

    ... what's a heaven for?

  19. chivo243 Silver badge
    Happy

    no bags needed

    If I kick the dust of Earth off my shoes, I will only be taking the clothes on my back, a toothbrush and a towel, no bags needed.

  20. Martin Budden

    Tidal locking bothers me.

    Those planets must be rather uncomfortable, with one cooked side and one frigid side and craaazy winds.

    We keep finding earth-sized planets in the goldilocks zone around various dwarf stars but they are necessarily always close to their star and therefore tidally locked. I think our best chance of finding alien life will be on planets orbiting larger stars, so that the planets are orbiting far enough out to be spinning. Unfortunately those ones are not so easy to spot.

    1. tacitust

      Re: Tidal locking bothers me.

      If the planets in the goldlocks zone are rich in water, (and simulations indicate that may be the case for many planets orbiting red dwarf stars) there is a chance life could have evolved deep underwater close to fumaroles similar to those found on Earth. Such life might not be detectable, however.

      A point in favor of red dwarfs is their sheer abundance - there are more of them than Sun-like stars so even if conditions suitable for life are much more rare around them, it's still worth investigating them, especially given the easier observing conditions they provide for the planets orbiting them.

      On the downside, many red dwarfs are flare stars -- though too unstable to be conducive to life, but I don't know the numbers off hand.

  21. Esme

    Spectral type?

    Can anyone confirm the spectral type of the primary? Only source I've been able to find is Wikipedia, which claims it's an M8, whereas the Reg article says 'white dwarf' which is emphatically NOT the same thing (a white dwarf is a very hot white small star, whilst an M8 is a very cool red dwarf star). The spectral type could have quite an effect on the potential habitability. I'm presuming that because NASA is depicting an orangey looking star that Wikipedia is right on this one, anyone know for sure if that's so?

    1. LDS Silver badge

      Re: Spectral type?

      You're right, but you should use the link to send corrections. Moreover a white dwarf is what happens after the red giant phase, and any planet orbiting the star within hundreds of UA will get a very rough treatment when the star expands..

      1. Esme

        Re: Spectral type?

        @LDS - I wasn't sending a correction, m'dear, just asking for clarification, because I know that Wikipedia isn't an entirely reliable source of information, and I couldn't offhand recall whether there were any white dwarves within 40LY of Sol.

      2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

        Re: Spectral type?

        "... but you should use the link to send corrections."

        No offense, but that's basically heresy.

    2. tacitust

      Re: Spectral type?

      Correct, turns out that TRAPPIST-1 is a very cool red dwarf star in more ways than one.

  22. Farnet

    I feel so much better.....

    Now I need to go down to my shed and build an intergalactic ARK and fill it full of SCI FI movies, multiple DNA sequences of every known animal on earth, a good recipe for Donna Kebabs on the go.

    Also kidnap Milla Jovovich, invent Stasis booths, DNA re-sequencing technology, and buy a big broom (to twat any local predators at the destination).

    With what Trump and May are doing, I will start tonight........ here Milla Milla.......

    1. Farnet

      Damn, I almost forgot...... maybe I should bring my wife as well...... well that's a bit awkward....

    2. MrXavia

      I'll be happy to join you, now is your shed big enough for an intergalactic ARK?

      Yes don't forget the wife, Dr Strangelove had a good idea about repopulation of the species....

    3. LDS Silver badge

      Why contaminated alien worlds with Earth species? Maybe they have better chances than us...

      1. Farnet

        True, no harm in hedging the bets though..... could be a world full of tribbles...... gonna need something to keep them under control.

        There are only so many BBQ'd tribbles you can eat in a day, my guess is 10, but at least we'd have fur coats pretty quicky, fur shoes, fur underwear (nice), fur toilet seats (not so nice).

  23. Richard Scratcher

    Liquid water

    Marvin: Could they have oceans?

    NASA: Oh yes! Great, wide rolling blue oceans.

    Marvin: Can't bear oceans.

  24. ZanzibarRastapopulous

    Who cares?

    It's bloody miles away what does it matter?

    1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      Re: Who cares?

      Thats correct . The way you said it makes it sound wrong , hence your 3 so far downvotes.

      but you're right.

      Apart from the pure spirit of scientific enquiry, mans quest for knowledge etc . it dont matter

      we certainly arnt going there for our holidays. Or even pilgrimaging on an ark to emmigrate.

      I can see a planet under my feet thats far more habitable, definately supports life , has lots of water and oxygen , and the temperatures nice.

      No matter how bored with it you might be , its convenient commute wise and is in fact , despite the pollution and overcrowding far easier to fix than to start from scratch on a rock thousands of light years away.

  25. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

    39 Light years

    39 Light years.

    Its a bit of a trek isnt it. Maybe galacticly speaking its on the doorstep , but that dosent in reality lessen the amount of furlongs between here and there.

    The best we can hope for is a really slow radio conversation. Hopefully it started a couple of decades ago.

    btw , there was plenty of fresh water falling on me from the sky all the way to work this morning.

    1. AndrueC Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: 39 Light years

      btw , there was plenty of fresh water falling on me from the sky all the way to work this morning.

      It wasn't falling here. It was being hurled at me. Mightily.

  26. slashdotdotorg

    as long as its az warm make it happen.

  27. Dr. G. Freeman

    Meh, a couple of days at maximum warp.

    ... Sorry, what do you mean we haven't got warp ? Stephen Hawking was working on it in the 90s !

    Fine, I'll start walking.

  28. Adam Higgins

    Yes man

    "...undiscovered Yes album cover."--brilliant!

  29. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge

    44 million years to get there at the speed of a standard jet aircraft

    But how long by bus?

    1. Martin Budden

      Re: 44 million years to get there at the speed of a standard jet aircraft

      Aaaaaages. And that's just the wait for three to arrive together.

  30. beecee

    did you say the NSA?

    Blimey just for a second I thought maybe even they and Echelon had pushed their budgets a bit too far. Then I reread it and it's NASA, so I can relax then. One downside of being dyslexic, still I hear they're hiring at The Doughnut down in Hubble Road. BC

  31. beecee

    time fo a ......

    Time for the brew's gravity to settle

  32. Colin Bain

    Picture this...

    Given that the planets are so far away, how come we have some fancy coloured pictures of them? I am supposing that we don't know enough, but NASA has generated some computerised coloured representations, but just how deceptive is that? And does it really matter since we aren't going there t check any time soon.......back to the crossword for me!

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