Newfound Discoveries in Space

Marina Chiafullo ‘20

Recently, through the use of artificial intelligence programs, NASA has discovered multiple planets in a new exoplanet system named Trappist-1. Forty light years from Earth, the seven planets create a solar system very similar to ours. They have a comparable orbit pattern and there is also potential for thriving life ( While the sun is a yellow dwarf star, Trappist-1 is considered an ultra-cool dwarf. Trappist-1 is redder, much smaller, and less heated. However, this provides the possibility for a select few of those planets orbiting it at a certain distance to have liquid water on their surface, a primary factor for life.

In early 2016, the Spitzer Space Telescope that NASA launched located this system and proved that three of the seven planets orbiting around Trappist-1 are in the habitable zone, or have the potential to support life. This breakthrough provided scientists with a completely new outlook, as these planets were the first recorded to be the size of Earth while orbiting a star as one unit and have the characteristics for life support.

One of the most focused on planets is Trappist 1-d. For this particular planet, scientists have found that it’s actually tidally locked, and because one half is directly facing the Trappist-1 and the other in complete darkness, a sliver called the terminator line exists, which could be habitable with the potential for liquid water. With this new discovery, there is always a possibility that we are not alone in the universe. Since some of these planets are able to uphold life as we know it, and may be supported by the recent research by NASA, Earth may not be the only planet in the universe with sentient beings. Pacey Keller ‘20 shares that “it’s very exciting just thing think that we are not alone, saying there may be life either similar or drastically different from us it’s just fascinating to see”. If life were to exist on planets other than Earth, is it wise to venture out into the black void of space and attempt to thrive in the unknown? There are many factors a planet must have to support life, and extensive research must be done in order to assure the safety of people and life in general there. Molly Weber ‘18 says, “I would go to a new planet so I could be able to experience a planet that isn’t as tainted and damaged as our current one”. Earth is deteriorating quickly, and if there is an opportunity for life somewhere in the universe, some of the students here are willing to take the risk.

While the discovery arose earlier this year, NASA will launch the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for launch in 2018, to help determine the habitability of the planets located in the habitable zones. The telescope will be able to analyze the surface pressure and temperatures of the planets and their atmospheres, as well as the chemical fingerprints from ozone, methane, oxygen, and water. Information on the planets’ qualities will aid in future expeditions and research in space (