NASA has made a massive breakthrough in the search for habitable planets and extra-terrestrial life with the discovery of seven Earth-sized planets orbiting one sun.
In an announcement made late on Wednesday, the US space agency says that of these seven, three are located within the “habitable zone”, wherein they are “most likely to have liquid water”.
Water is, of course, vital to life as we know it, and has scientists giddy with anticipation. “This discovery could be a significant piece in the puzzle of finding habitable environments, places that are conducive to life,” says NASA’s Thomas Zurbuchen, and administrator of the agency’s Science Mission Directorate.
“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.”
The solar system has been branded “TRAPPIST-1”, short for the Chilean “The Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope” that made the initial discovery.
NASA’s Spitzer telescope has since confirmed the size and number of the heavenly bodies, save for the seventh and most distant “snowball-like” world.
Based on their sizes, says NASA, their density has been estimated, and scientists suspect the worlds to be rocky.
Interestingly, all seven planets are closer to their star than Mercury is to our sun – but their sun’s relative coolness as an “ultra-cool dwarf” has not burnt them to a crisp.
Furthermore, says the agency, they are all surreally close to one another. “f a person was standing on one of the planet’s surface, they could gaze up and potentially see geological features or clouds of neighbouring worlds, which would sometimes appear larger than the moon in Earth's sky,” NASA explains.
NASA will likely spend most of the next decade studying the system, seeking the interstellar answers we all crave.
“This is the most exciting result I have seen in the 14 years of Spitzer operations,” says Spitzer Science Center manager Sean Carey. “More observations of the system are sure to reveal more secrets.”
WATCH: NASA's video on the discovery.