Diamond shaped asteroid one of 29k+ NEO’s detected

Japan’s space agency is preparing to attempt two landings on a diamond shaped asteroid called Ryugu. It is one of over 18,000 Near Earth objects that have now been detected.

Image result for ryugu asteroid

900 metre wide Ryugu asteroid

Ryugu has been described as ‘unusually shaped’ but I think it has become obvious that asteroids are a wide variety of seemingly random shapes, so no particular shape should be seen as unusual. It would be very unusual if they all looked similar,

Ryugu is a C-type asteroid. Asteroids (NASA):

C-type (carbonaceous): Includes more than 75 percent of known asteroids. Very dark with an albedo of 0.03-0.09.
Composition is thought to be similar to the Sun, depleted in hydrogen, helium, and other volatiles. C-type asteroids inhabit the main belt’s outer regions.

S-type (silicaceous): Accounts for about 17 percent of known asteroids. Relatively bright with an albedo of 0.10-0.22. Composition is metallic iron mixed with iron- and magnesium-silicates. S-type asteroids dominate the inner asteroid belt.

M-type (metallic): Includes many of the rest of the known asteroids. Relatively bright with an albedo of 0.10-0.18. Composition is apparently dominated by metallic iron. M-type asteroids inhabit the main belt’s middle region.

CNN:

Japan’s space agency will attempt to land a robotic unmanned landing craft on the surface of an asteroid 300 million-kilometers (186.4 million-miles) away from Earth next month.

The Hayabusa-2 spacecraft is currently orbiting around the diamond-shaped asteroid Ryugu, which it reached in June after a three-and-a-half year journey.

On September 21, the spacecraft will deploy the first of two landers onto the asteroid itself, where they will gather samples and conduct experiments. A second lander will be launched on October 3.

Later in the mission, the spacecraft itself will land on the asteroid after blowing a small crater in it using explosives, so samples can be gathered from below the object’s surface which have not been exposed to space.

JASA’s Asteroid Explorer “Hayabusa2” descended from its orbiting position (at a 20km altitude from Ryugu) to a minimum altitude of 851 m, on 6 -7 August 2018.

NASA has detected more than 29,000 Near Earth Objects, most over the last ten years, so the number is likely to keep increasing.

 

Near-Earth Objects (NEOs) are comets and asteroids that have been nudged by the gravitational attraction of nearby planets into orbits that allow them to enter the Earth’s neighborhood. Composed mostly of water ice with embedded dust particles, comets originally formed in the cold outer planetary system while most of the rocky asteroids formed in the warmer inner solar system between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

On a daily basis, about one hundred tons of interplanetary material drifts down to the Earth’s surface. Most of the smallest interplanetary particles that reach the Earth’s surface are the tiny dust particles that are released by comets as their ices vaporize in the solar neighborhood.

With an average interval of about 10,000 years, rocky or iron asteroids larger than about 100 meters would be expected to reach the Earth’s surface and cause local disasters or produce the tidal waves that can inundate low lying coastal areas. On an average of every several hundred thousand years or so, asteroids larger than a kilometer could cause global disasters.

No one should be overly concerned about an Earth impact of an asteroid or comet. The threat to any one person from auto accidents, disease, other natural disasters and a variety of other problems is much higher than the threat from NEOs. Over long periods of time, however, the chances of the Earth being impacted are not negligible so that some form of NEO insurance is warranted.

https://cneos.jpl.nasa.gov/about/basics.html

Evidence of possible life on Mars

NASA’s Curiosity rover has found new evidence that adds weight to the possibility there has been life on Mars (in the distant past).

NASA’s Curiosity rover has found new evidence preserved in rocks on Mars that suggests the planet could have supported ancient life, as well as new evidence in the Martian atmosphere that relates to the search for current life on the Red Planet. While not necessarily evidence of life itself, these findings are a good sign for future missions exploring the planet’s surface and subsurface.

This low-angle self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle at the site from which it reached down to drill in

NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover at the site from which it reached down
to drill into a rock target called “Buckskin” on lower Mount Sharp.

The new findings – “tough” organic molecules in three-billion-year-old sedimentary rocks near the surface, as well as seasonal variations in the levels of methane in the atmosphere – appear in the June 8 edition of the journal Science.

Organic molecules contain carbon and hydrogen, and also may include oxygen, nitrogen and other elements. While commonly associated with life, organic molecules also can be created by non-biological processes and are not necessarily indicators of life.

“With these new findings, Mars is telling us to stay the course and keep searching for evidence of life,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, in Washington. “I’m confident that our ongoing and planned missions will unlock even more breathtaking discoveries on the Red Planet.”

“Curiosity has not determined the source of the organic molecules,” said Jen Eigenbrode of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who is lead author of one of the two new Science papers. “Whether it holds a record of ancient life, was food for life, or has existed in the absence of life, organic matter in Martian materials holds chemical clues to planetary conditions and processes.”

Although the surface of Mars is inhospitable today, there is clear evidence that in the distant past, the Martian climate allowed liquid water – an essential ingredient for life as we know it – to pool at the surface. Data from Curiosity reveal that billions of years ago, a water lake inside Gale Crater held all the ingredients necessary for life, including chemical building blocks and energy sources.

Mars isn’t an easy place to escape to if things turn pear shaped on Earth, but if life is proven to have survived there in the past it would add weight to the lack of uniqueness of life on Earth.

Near miss asteroid whizzed by in the weekend

An asteroid whizzed past us in the weekend with little warning it was on it’s way. It was only detected 21 hours before it’s closest approach, giving no time to do anything but observe.

It missed Earth by about half the distance to the moon, so we weren’t close to disaster, but that’s a near miss in the scale of the solar system.

Space.com: ‘Tunguska’-Size Asteroid Makes Surprise Flyby of Earth

An asteroid similar in size to one that exploded more than 100 years ago in Russia’s Tunguska region in Siberia gave Earth a close shave on Sunday (April 15), just one day after astronomers discovered the object.

The asteroid, designated 2018 GE3, made its closest approach to Earth at around 2:41 a.m. EDT (0641 GMT), whizzing by at a distance of 119,400 miles (192,000 kilometers), or about half the average distance between Earth and the moon, according to NASA’s Center for Near Earth Object Studies(CNEOS).

NASA estimated that this asteroid measures 157 to 360 feet (48 to110 meters) wide, making the space rock up to 3.6 times the size of the one that leveled 500,000 acres (2,000 square kilometers) of Siberian forest when it exploded over Tunguska in 1908.

So quite a bit bigger than than the Tunguska asteroid. If an asteroid like that hit Earth the odds are it would hit water or uninhabited land, but it would make quite a mess if it struck a populated area.

The asteroid 2018 GE3 was first spotted on Saturday (April 14) at 5:23 a.m. EDT (0923 GMT) by astronomers at the Catalina Sky Survey, a NASA-sponsored program based at the University of Arizona in Tucson. This first sighting occurred just 21 hours before the asteroid’s closest approach to Earth.

So it was seen on Saturday about 9 pm NZ time, and it’s closest approach was about 6 pm on Sunday NZ time, so if it struck near here it would have missed making the evening TV news.

This was closer miss than usual but ‘near misses’ are common. The database at NEO Earth Close Approaches shows 139 ‘close approaches’ within the last 60 days.

On 21 February and also on 2 March and again on 18 and 30 March Earth was missed by asteroids by less than the 2018 GE3 approach, but most are much further away.

If one does strike there may not be much we can do about it but hope it is somewhere else. Would we be warned in advance of impending doom? There was a lot of attention given to the Chinese space station re-entry, but there was plenty of notice for that.

If a ‘not missing’ approach is detected a day or a week or a month before it gets here I wonder if we will be told about it.

Tour of the Moon

NASA has released a video tour of the Moon.

Take a virtual tour of the Moon in all-new 4K resolution, thanks to data provided by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft. As the visualization moves around the near side, far side, north and south poles, we highlight interesting features, sites, and information gathered on the lunar terrain.

This video is public domain and along with other supporting visualizations can be downloaded from the Scientific Visualization Studio at: http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/4619 Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/David Ladd

Music Provided By Killer Tracks: “Never Looking Back” – Frederick Wiedmann. “Flying over Turmoil” – Benjamin Krause & Scott Goodman.

Ingredients for life found in meteorites

Two meteorites that fell to Earth in 1998 have been analysed using modern methods and have been found to contain essential ingredients for life – water, amino acids, hydrocarbons and other organic matter.

CNN:  Ingredients for life found in meteorites that crashed to Earth

Although two 4.5-billion-year-old meteorites crashed to Earth in 1998, it’s taken until now to uncover some of their secrets.

The two meteorites, called Monahans and Zag, are the first discovered to contain the ingredients for life: liquid water, amino acids, hydrocarbons and other organic matter.

A chemical-makeup analysis of blue and purple salt and potassium crystals from the meteorites was published in the journal Science Advances on Wednesday.

Although it’s not exactly proof that life exists beyond Earth, the traces of water in the salt crystals could date to the earliest days of our solar system.

This indicates a probability there are ingredients for life elsewhere in our own solar system, but while the odds are strongly in favour that this could be replicated elsewhere in the Universe it is not proof beyond our tiny patch.

Before slamming into Earth — one near a youth basketball game in Texas in March 1998 and another near Morocco in August 1998 — the meteorites lived in our solar system’s asteroid belt for billions of years.

The salt crystals from the two meteorites are similar, and researchers believe that these two objects crossed paths at some point. But the salt crystals were not always part of the meteorites themselves. It’s possible that they came from volcanic activity that ejected water or ice, which happens on ocean worlds in our solar system, and attached to the meteorites through impact.

A blue crystal recovered from a meteorite that fell near Morocco in 1998.

“Our coordinated organic analysis of the salt crystals suggest that the organic matter originated from a water-rich, or previously water-rich parent body — an ocean world in the early solar system, possibly Ceres,” Queenie Chan, study author and postdoctoral research associate at The Open University in the UK, wrote in an email.

Chan said her team has saved some of the larger blue salt crystals for future analysis. They hope to discover more liquid water in the salt crystals and investigate the origin of the water itself. There are also other meteorite samples with well-preserved crystals that they want to test.

“Our finding that the meteorites contain a wide diversity of organic compounds is exciting, but what made me jump up and down was that we were able to investigate the soluble — such as amino acids, the building blocks of life — and insoluble organic compounds contain within the tiny salt crystals which are only about 2 mm in size each, and which are the hosts to liquid water — another crucial ingredient for life to occur,” Chan said.

“These results pay off the amount of time and effort I spent in the laboratory trying to break the meteorite sample apart to ‘hand pick’ and collect the stunning blue salt crystals.”

It has taken nearly twenty years to get these results.

Technology had to catch up before researchers could even think about the in-depth analysis they wanted to carry out.

More could be discovered from these and other meteorites in the future.

Another 8 planet solar system

NASA have now discovered an eighth planet orbiting the Kepler-9 sun – or at least they were 2,545 light-years ago, we can only look back into history.

NASA: Artificial Intelligence, NASA Data Used to Discover Eighth Planet Circling Distant Star

The planet was discovered in data from NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope.

The newly-discovered Kepler-90i – a sizzling hot, rocky planet that orbits its star once every 14.4 days – was found using machine learning from Google. Machine learning is an approach to artificial intelligence in which computers “learn.” In this case, computers learned to identify planets by finding in Kepler data instances where the telescope recorded signals from planets beyond our solar system, known as exoplanets.

The discovery came about after researchers Christopher Shallue and Andrew Vanderburg trained a computer to learn how to identify exoplanets in the light readings recorded by Kepler – the minuscule change in brightness captured when a planet passed in front of, or transited, a star. Inspired by the way neurons connect in the human brain, this artificial “neural network” sifted through Kepler data and found weak transit signals from a previously-missed eighth planet orbiting Kepler-90, in the constellation Draco.

While machine learning has previously been used in searches of the Kepler database, this research demonstrates that neural networks are a promising tool in finding some of the weakest signals of distant worlds.

Other planetary systems probably hold more promise for life than Kepler-90. About 30 percent larger than Earth, Kepler-90i is so close to its star that its average surface temperature is believed to exceed 800 degrees Fahrenheit, on par with Mercury. Its outermost planet, Kepler-90h, orbits at a similar distance to its star as Earth does to the Sun.

“The Kepler-90 star system is like a mini version of our solar system. You have small planets inside and big planets outside, but everything is scrunched in much closer,” said Vanderburg, a NASA Sagan Postdoctoral Fellow and astronomer at the University of Texas at Austin.

I don’t know how accurate this planet detection is – and of course there could be more planets not yet detected there.

A lot closer to earth: Is ‘Oumuamua an alien spacecraft? First scans show no signs of technology

The first scans for alien technology aboard a mysterious object that is barreling through the solar system have found no evidence it is the work of an intelligent civilisation.

The cigar-shaped object was spotted hurtling through the solar system in Octoberand while astronomers suspected it was an interstellar asteroid, its curious shape led them to propose sweeping it for radio signals in case it happened to be an alien craft.

While the long, slender object may have been well suited to flying through clouds of interstellar gas at breakneck speed, as some researchers noted, the observation that the body was tumbling through space suggests any aerodynamic advantage was at best minimal.

Scientists on the Breakthrough Listen project, funded by the internet billionaire Yuri Milner, used the Green Bank telescope in West Virginia to eavesdrop on the 400m-long body named ‘Oumuamua, from the Hawaiian word for “messenger” or “scout”. The body is twice as far from Earth as the sun, but the telescope is so sensitive it could detect transmissions as weak as those produced by a mobile phone.

But on Thursday, the astronomers declared that the first observations across four bands of the radio spectrum had found no evidence that ‘Oumuamua is anything other than a long lump of space rock. Scientists on the project have released the data from the observations so anyone can study the information.

I suppose until it’s proven that it isn’t aliens then it theoretically could be, but I wonder why there was speculation this rock could have been anything different.

Images of Saturn and Earth

Just over a week ago the Cassini spacecraft was deliberately crashed into Saturn at the end of it’s extended mission orbiting the gas giant planet.

Saturn and its magnificent rings

NASA:  Cassini Spacecraft Ends Its Historic Exploration of Saturn

Cassini launched in 1997 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and arrived at Saturn in 2004. NASA extended its mission twice – first for two years, and then for seven more. The second mission extension provided dozens of flybys of the planet’s icy moons, using the spacecraft’s remaining rocket propellant along the way. Cassini finished its tour of the Saturn system with its Grand Finale, capped by Friday’s intentional plunge into the planet to ensure Saturn’s moons – particularly Enceladus, with its subsurface ocean and signs of hydrothermal activity – remain pristine for future exploration.

While the Cassini spacecraft is gone, its enormous collection of data about Saturn – the giant planet, its magnetosphere, rings and moons – will continue to yield new discoveries for decades to come.

Just prior to this:  Cassini Spacecraft Makes Its Final Approach to Saturn

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is on final approach to Saturn, following confirmation by mission navigators that it is on course to dive into the planet’s atmosphere on Friday, Sept. 15.

Cassini is ending its 13-year tour of the Saturn system with an intentional plunge into the planet to ensure Saturn’s moons – in particular Enceladus, with its subsurface ocean and signs of hydrothermal activity – remain pristine for future exploration. The spacecraft’s fateful dive is the final beat in the mission’s Grand Finale, 22 weekly dives, which began in late April, through the gap between Saturn and its rings. No spacecraft has ever ventured so close to the planet before.

Some of the last images taken by Cassini:

Saturn Hemisphere

Saturn’s northern hemisphere with rings in the background

Enceladus

One of Saturn’s moons, Enceladus, on the horizon
(Saturn has 62 confirmed moons)

 

Saturn Rings

Saturn’s rings

Saturn's rings and our planet Earth

An earlier (2013) photo of Earth from Saturn

And zooming in a bit closer:

New Earthrise Image from LRO spacecraft

A view of earth from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO)

Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Open Forum – Friday

9 June 2017

Facebook: NZ politics/media+

This post is open to anyone to comment on any topic that isn’t spam, illegal or offensive. All Your NZ posts are open but this one is for you to raise topics that interest you. 

If providing opinions on or summaries of other information also provide a link to that information. Bloggers are welcome to summarise and link to their posts.

Comments worth more exposure may be repeated as posts.

Your NZ is a mostly political and social issues blog but not limited to that, and views from anywhere on the political spectrum are welcome. Some ground rules:

  • If possible support arguments, news, points or opinions with links to sources and facts.
  • Please don’t post anything illegal, potentially defamatory or abusive.

Swooping around Jupiter

The Juno spacecraft is orbiting Jupiter, returning a lot of science and images to NASA on Earth.

Sequence of Juno Spacecraft’s Close Approach to Jupiter

Juno telecon image

Image Credit: NASA/SWRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstädt/Seán Doran

This sequence of enhanced-color images shows how quickly the viewing geometry changes for NASA’s Juno spacecraft as it swoops by Jupiter. The images were obtained by JunoCam.

Once every 53 days the Juno spacecraft swings close to Jupiter, speeding over its clouds. In just two hours, the spacecraft travels from a perch over Jupiter’s north pole through its closest approach (perijove), then passes over the south pole on its way back out.

The first image on the left shows the entire half-lit globe of Jupiter, with the north pole approximately in the center. As the spacecraft gets closer to Jupiter, the horizon moves in and the range of visible latitudes shrinks.

The third and fourth images in this sequence show the north polar region rotating away from our view while a band of wavy clouds at northern mid-latitudes comes into view.

By the fifth image of the sequence the band of turbulent clouds is nicely centered in the image.

The seventh and eighth images were taken just before the spacecraft was at its closest point to Jupiter, near Jupiter’s equator. Even though these two pictures were taken just four minutes apart, the view is changing quickly.

As the spacecraft crossed into the southern hemisphere, the bright “south tropical zone” dominates the ninth, 10th and 11th images.

The white ovals in a feature nicknamed Jupiter’s “String of Pearls” are visible in the 12th and 13th images.

In the 14th image Juno views Jupiter’s south poles.

An animated close encounter with Jupiter:

NASA / SwRI / MSSS / Gerald Eichstädt / Seán Doran

Music by Ligeti

A Whole New Jupiter: First Science Results from NASA’s Juno Mission

Early science results from NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter portray the largest planet in our solar system as a complex, gigantic, turbulent world, with Earth-sized polar cyclones, plunging storm systems that travel deep into the heart of the gas giant, and a mammoth, lumpy magnetic field that may indicate it was generated closer to the planet’s surface than previously thought.

Juno launched on Aug. 5, 2011, entering Jupiter’s orbit on July 4, 2016. The findings from the first data-collection pass, which flew within about 2,600 miles (4,200 kilometers) of Jupiter’s swirling cloud tops on Aug. 27, are being published this week in two papers in the journal Science, as well as 44 papers in Geophysical Research Letters.

Among the findings that challenge assumptions are those provided by Juno’s imager, JunoCam. The images show both of Jupiter’s poles are covered in Earth-sized swirling storms that are densely clustered and rubbing together.

We’re puzzled as to how they could be formed, how stable the configuration is, and why Jupiter’s north pole doesn’t look like the south pole,” said Bolton. “We’re questioning whether this is a dynamic system, and are we seeing just one stage, and over the next year, we’re going to watch it disappear, or is this a stable configuration and these storms are circulating around one another?”

Another surprise comes from Juno’s Microwave Radiometer (MWR), which samples the thermal microwave radiation from Jupiter’s atmosphere, from the top of the ammonia clouds to deep within its atmosphere. The MWR data indicates that Jupiter’s iconic belts and zones are mysterious, with the belt near the equator penetrating all the way down, while the belts and zones at other latitudes seem to evolve to other structures. The data suggest the ammonia is quite variable and continues to increase as far down as we can see with MWR, which is a few hundred miles or kilometers.

Prior to the Juno mission, it was known that Jupiter had the most intense magnetic field in the solar system. Measurements of the massive planet’s magnetosphere, from Juno’s magnetometer investigation (MAG), indicate that Jupiter’s magnetic field is even stronger than models expected, and more irregular in shape. MAG data indicates the magnetic field greatly exceeded expectations at 7.766 Gauss, about 10 times stronger than the strongest magnetic field found on Earth.

“Juno is giving us a view of the magnetic field close to Jupiter that we’ve never had before,” said Jack Connerney, Juno deputy principal investigator and the lead for the mission’s magnetic field investigation at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Already we see that the magnetic field looks lumpy: it is stronger in some places and weaker in others. This uneven distribution suggests that the field might be generated by dynamo action closer to the surface, above the layer of metallic hydrogen. Every flyby we execute gets us closer to determining where and how Jupiter’s dynamo works.”

Juno also is designed to study the polar magnetosphere and the origin of Jupiter’s powerful auroras—its northern and southern lights. These auroral emissions are caused by particles that pick up energy, slamming into atmospheric molecules. Juno’s initial observations indicate that the process seems to work differently at Jupiter than at Earth.

Juno is in a polar orbit around Jupiter, and the majority of each orbit is spent well away from the gas giant. But, once every 53 days, its trajectory approaches Jupiter from above its north pole, where it begins a two-hour transit (from pole to pole) flying north to south with its eight science instruments collecting data and its JunoCam public outreach camera snapping pictures. The download of six megabytes of data collected during the transit can take 1.5 days.

“Every 53 days, we go screaming by Jupiter, get doused by a fire hose of Jovian science, and there is always something new,” said Bolton. “On our next flyby on July 11, we will fly directly over one of the most iconic features in the entire solar system — one that every school kid knows — Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. If anybody is going to get to the bottom of what is going on below those mammoth swirling crimson cloud tops, it’s Juno and her cloud-piercing science instruments.”

More information on the Juno mission is available at:

https://www.nasa.gov/juno

http://missionjuno.org

1 star with 7 Earth sized planets

NASA’s big announcement is that they have discovered seven earth sized planets orbiting a single star. Based on their densities they are likely to be rocky. Three of these planets within a ‘habitable zone’.


NASA Telescope Reveals Largest Batch of Earth-Size, Habitable-Zone Planets Around Single Star

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has revealed the first known system of seven Earth-size planets around a single star. Three of these planets are firmly located in the habitable zone, the area around the parent star where a rocky planet is most likely to have liquid water.

The TRAPPIST-1 star, an ultra-cool dwarf, has seven Earth-size planets orbiting it. This artist’s concept appeared on the cover of the journal Nature on Feb. 23, 2017.

Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

The discovery sets a new record for greatest number of habitable-zone planets found around a single star outside our solar system. All of these seven planets could have liquid water – key to life as we know it – under the right atmospheric conditions, but the chances are highest with the three in the habitable zone.

“This discovery could be a significant piece in the puzzle of finding habitable environments, places that are conducive to life,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Answering the question ‘are we alone’ is a top science priority and finding so many planets like these for the first time in the habitable zone is a remarkable step forward toward that goal.”

At about 40 light-years (235 trillion miles) from Earth, the system of planets is relatively close to us, in the constellation Aquarius. Because they are located outside of our solar system, these planets are scientifically known as exoplanets.

This exoplanet system is called TRAPPIST-1, named for The Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST) in Chile. In May 2016, researchers using TRAPPIST announced they had discovered three planets in the system. Assisted by several ground-based telescopes, including the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope, Spitzer confirmed the existence of two of these planets and discovered five additional ones, increasing the number of known planets in the system to seven.

Using Spitzer data, the team precisely measured the sizes of the seven planets and developed first estimates of the masses of six of them, allowing their density to be estimated.

Based on their densities, all of the TRAPPIST-1 planets are likely to be rocky. Further observations will not only help determine whether they are rich in water, but also possibly reveal whether any could have liquid water on their surfaces. The mass of the seventh and farthest exoplanet has not yet been estimated – scientists believe it could be an icy, “snowball-like” world, but further observations are needed.

“The seven wonders of TRAPPIST-1 are the first Earth-size planets that have been found orbiting this kind of star,” said Michael Gillon, lead author of the paper and the principal investigator of the TRAPPIST exoplanet survey at the University of Liege, Belgium. “It is also the best target yet for studying the atmospheres of potentially habitable, Earth-size worlds.”

In contrast to our sun, the TRAPPIST-1 star – classified as an ultra-cool dwarf – is so cool that liquid water could survive on planets orbiting very close to it, closer than is possible on planets in our solar system. All seven of the TRAPPIST-1 planetary orbits are closer to their host star than Mercury is to our sun. The planets also are very close to each other. If a person was standing on one of the planet’s surface, they could gaze up and potentially see geological features or clouds of neighboring worlds, which would sometimes appear larger than the moon in Earth’s sky.

The planets may also be tidally locked to their star, which means the same side of the planet is always facing the star, therefore each side is either perpetual day or night. This could mean they have weather patterns totally unlike those on Earth, such as strong winds blowing from the day side to the night side, and extreme temperature changes.

“This is the most exciting result I have seen in the 14 years of Spitzer operations,” said Sean Carey, manager of NASA’s Spitzer Science Center at Caltech/IPAC in Pasadena, California. “Spitzer will follow up in the fall to further refine our understanding of these planets so that the James Webb Space Telescope can follow up. More observations of the system are sure to reveal more secrets.”