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How Something 39 Light Years Away is Relevant to Your Life

Why the discovery of the TRAPPIST-1 system is such an important breakthrough

An+illustrated+poster+showing+a+possible+view+on+one+of+the+new+planets%2C+TRAPPIST-1e
An illustrated poster showing a possible view on one of the new planets, TRAPPIST-1e

An illustrated poster showing a possible view on one of the new planets, TRAPPIST-1e

Photo by NASA

Photo by NASA

An illustrated poster showing a possible view on one of the new planets, TRAPPIST-1e

Peter Quinn, Opinion Editor

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Unless you are someone, like myself, who loves science, the recent breakthroughs NASA has made could be something that you might brush off your shoulder since many believe that anything in space past the moon has no relevance to us. Contrary to this mindset, the discovery of the solar system ‘TRAPPIST-1’ could have monumental effects on our future.

For a quick briefing, NASA discovered a system of seven earth-sized planets around a small, dying star around 39 light years away (or 229 trillion miles). Now, in a space shuttle that travels at roughly 17,500 mph, it would take about 1.5 million years to reach the TRAPPIST-1 system. So, our current options are to either create a much faster vehicle or find a way for humans to survive 1.5 million years.

The fact that with our current technology it seems this system is unreachable is a leading factor to why some think this discovery is irrelevant. Although we may not be able to land humans afoot these new planets, this is the first discovery of habitable planets aside from our own. The seven different planets are currently denoted as TRAPPIST-1a, b, c, d, e, f, g, and h, with TRAPPIST-1a being the dwarf star in the center acting as the sun.

 

Photo by NYT
A depiction of the TRAPPIST-1 system compared to our solar system.

The first three planets seem to be too close to the star for comfortable conditions, but TRAPPIST-1 e, f, and g theoretically have temperatures sustainable for life. These planets also harbor bodies of water that, for once, aren’t either frozen solid or boiling hot due to the temperatures of the planets. The importance of these bodies of water is simply that water is life, and life depends upon water.

Now, this does not mean we have stumbled upon some greater alien race, but it opens the door to such a possibility. Even finding the simplest forms of life, such as tiny organisms or plants, would be a massive breakthrough and would show that there is life apart from ours in the universe, even if it is not remotely as complex as ours.

This is only the start of the various studies that will be performed on the TRAPPIST-1 system, as well as a start of the search for more solar systems with similar conditions that could harbor life.

Although this foreign solar system may not seem reachable at the current moment, it sheds light on some of the uncertainties we humans have about the universe that we live in, and it opens a door for more. An ending thought to leave here is this: have other solar systems viewed us in the same way as we are viewing TRAPPIST-1?

 

1 Comment

One Response to “How Something 39 Light Years Away is Relevant to Your Life”

  1. Erin Quinn on February 27th, 2017 3:14 pm

    Good article, Peter Quinn!

    [Reply]

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How Something 39 Light Years Away is Relevant to Your Life