Last summer, I shared some news about the discovery of more than a thousand exoplanets. That was exciting because, with one announcement, astronomers doubled the number of known exoplanets. Hmmm…don’t remember what an exoplanet is? In short, an exoplanet is a planet outside our solar system. Exoplanets orbit stars that our distant from our solar system. I entitled that post, “A Cool Time to be a Human Being.” You can read it here.
Yesterday, the list of known exoplanets expanded again as astronomers announced the discovery of four exoplanets that orbit a blue dwarf star that is 40 light-years away. While the number of newly discovered exoplanets in this announcement was relatively small, the interesting thing is that these new exoplanets are similar in size and mass to the Earth. Which may not seem like such a big deal considering that most of the known exoplanets to date are approximately the size of Jupiter. But what is noteworthy about these newest members of the exoplanet club is they orbit at a distance that would make their temperatures suitable for liquid water. The mere fact that humans know exoplanets exist is staggering. But the fact that there is a growing number of exoplanets that are comparable to Earth is utterly mind blowing! Maybe, just maybe, there is life on one of these new exoplanets. If not, then maybe life could exist somewhere on the many, many other exoplanets that must surely exist throughout the universe. It is still a cool time to be a human being!
The name of the star that is the home to the new exoplanets is TRAPPIST-1. With the addition of the four new exoplanets, the total number of exoplanets that orbit this star is seven, one short of the number of planets in our solar system. The TRAPPIST-1 system is located in the constellation Aquarius. I thought that TRAPPIST-1 was an odd name for a star, so I looked in to it. Turns out that TRAPPIST is the acronym for a project at Liege University in Belgium. The goal of the project is search for exoplanets. You can learn more about it here.
OK, enough science for one day. I hope you enjoyed it. I need to finish packing. Yep, I’m heading out on the road again. This time to Death Valley for a week of photography with my buddies Brian and Richard. Wish us luck as we explore the desert in the midst of recent rains that have hammered California. I’m looking forward to an interesting trip! To celebrate my trip to DV and to commemorate the newest additions to the exoplanet family, here is a Milky Way image from a trip I took to Death Valley several years ago.