CAPE CANAVERAL: Astronomers have found a nearby solar system with seven Earth-sized planets, three of which circle their parent star at the right distance for liquid surface water, raising the prospect of life, research published on Wednesday showed. The star, known as TRAPPIST-1, is a small, dim celestial body in the constellation Aquarius. It is located about 40 light years away from Earth.
Researchers said the proximity of the system, combined with the proportionally large size of its planets compared to the small star, make it a good target for follow-up studies. They hope to scan the planets' atmospheres for possible chemical fingerprints of life.
"I think that we've made a crucial step towards finding if there is life out there," University of Cambridge astronomer Amaury Triaud told reporters on a conference call on Tuesday.
New record! We've found 7 Earth-sized planets in the habitable zone around a single star outside our solar system: https://t.co/GgBy5QOTpKpic.twitter.com/pPzEcKhTqL
- NASA (@NASA) February 22, 2017
The discovery, published in this week's issue of the journal Nature, builds on previous research showing three planets circling TRAPPIST-1. They are among more than 3,500 planets discovered beyond the solar system, or exoplanets.
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