Self Care: Astronomy Picture(/News) of the Week – NASA Finds a New Solar System with 3 Habitable Planets

Okay okay… potentially habitable planets… the title was already long enough…

(Thanks to Rob Grigjanis for alerting me to this…)

Allowing for the fact that NASA is known for its sensationalism (routinely mocked, actually, by some astronomy podcasts I listen to, like Awesome Astronomy), this is actually really intriguing. From Vox

TRAPPIST-1 System... planets e, f, and g are the potentially habitable planets

TRAPPIST-1 System… planets e, f, and g are the potentially habitable planets

[NASA], along with partners around the world, has found seven potentially Earth-like planets orbiting a star 40 light-years away.

“It’s the first time that so many planets of this kind are found around a same star,” Michaël Gillon, the lead author of the Nature paper announcing the discovery, said in a press conference. “The seven planets … could have some liquid water and maybe life on the surface.”

Three of the planets are directly in the star’s habitable zone, meaning water can mostly likely exist on the surface of them. One of them, Gillon said, has a mass “strongly to suggest a water-rich composition.” And it’s possible that the other four could have liquid water, too, depending on the composition of their atmospheres, the astronomers said.

Please head over to Vox and read the entire thing. You can also find more information at NASA’s site.

And, for the heck of it, here’s a short video from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory about it:

How advanced said potential life may be would depend, in small part, at least, on the age of the planets, although, personally, I don’t think any life there would be as advanced as us, let alone ahead of us, not because of anthropocentrism, but because of how rare advanced life probably is. I am one who thinks that, in terms of advanced, intelligent life, while we certainly aren’t alone in the entire universe (it’s too big, and there’s too many galaxies, stars, and planets… the law of large numbers damn near demands that somewhere else in the universe, probably somewhere between tens of millions to a few billion lightyears away, there’s more advanced life), we are most likely alone in our galaxy and probably the Local Group, as well (and no, we’ve never been visited).

But that doesn’t mean I think there’s no other life in our galaxy or Local Group (besides on Earth, that is)… I just think we’re the most advanced. And yeah, sure, I could be wrong. I take my opinion from the most recent calculations of the Drake Equation (which, obviously, is not perfect and does have legitimate criticisms against it).

This is yet another reason I’m so excited for the James Webb Space Telescope, and I’m hoping they’ll point it to this system pretty quickly after it launches.

And you know what?

Screw it.

Here’s the full, 37 minute and 14 second press conference from NASA about the discovery:

Eh… Phil Plait does make a good point, actually…

I want to be very careful here: We only have estimates on the planets’ sizes, not direct measurements. The masses were found by looking at how the transit times of each planet changed as the planets tugged on each other. So, we don’t know their actual masses very accurately yet, or whether they have atmospheres, or what they’re made of. All we know for sure are their sizes and orbital periods. So, everything else is extrapolated from that. Beware of articles in the media saying we’ve found Earth-like planets! We actually don’t know for sure that any of these planets has a temperature like ours, or even if they have air. We can say very little about how habitable they are.

Which obviously means that my conjecture about alien life above is barely even conjecture. But that doesn’t stop me, damnit! I will conjecture about alien life on new-found exoplanets all I want, and you can’t stop me! 😛

Here’s a write-up and an interview about this, thanks to StevoR.

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