Twinkle, Twinkle Little Trappist – The New York Times


Seven Earth-size planets orbit a dwarf star named Trappist-1 about 40 light-years from Earth.


So, we may have been looking for alien life in the wrong place! Not long ago, scientists scouring the cosmos for Earth-like planets with the right stuff to generate life were looking around sun-like stars. It turns out that the first such planets they’ve found — seven of them — are circling something quite different: what scientists call an “ultracool dwarf” in their ultracool terminology, though in this case the reference is to the temperature of a dim star barely one-twelfth the mass of the sun.

The discovery is enormously exciting, for several reasons. One is that the little star, which in their whimsical way the scientists named Trappist-1 after the telescope in Chile initially used to study it, is a mere 40 light-years from Earth, which is next door in cosmic terms. The search for alien life can now start far sooner than anticipated, especially with new telescopes about to come into service, and some answers might be available within a decade.

Then there’s the fact that cool red dwarfs like Trappist-1 are the most common type of star, so there are probably many more potentially life-supporting worlds out there than were previously suspected. Astronomers have always presumed that other stars must have their planets, but it was only in 1995 that…

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