New solar system: an exciting find

The discovery of a new solar system with a dwarf star Trappist-1 which has seven earth-sized rocky planets orbiting around it about 40 light years away from us has given fresh life to the search for extraterrestrial life. A distance of 40 light years is next door by cosmic standards. As telescopes have already peered farther into space, observing Trappist-1 and its environment may not pose a serious challenge. What is exciting about the discovery is that all seven planets may have liquid water, which is considered to be the first condition for life, and may be in the goldilocks zone, which is the area near a star considered to be ideal for the emergence of life. The discovery was first made by a Chile-based telescope which saw three planets. Four others were later found by a Nasa telescope. The presence of seven stars with features which may support life increases the statistical possibility of our finding life there.

The excitement is also due to the possibility that an answer to the question of whether there is life in the Trappist system may be available in a few years. Some think we will get to know about it in 10 years. A good amount of information about the planets is already available. It is more than what is available about many other exoplanets, and most of it is positive. But more definite clues and evidence are needed before conclusions can be drawn. A study of the climate and chemical composition of the atmosphere in the planets will give a fair indication of the possibility of life. This study is possible now with the technology and equipment available with the scientists. The telescopes and the expertise are actually getting better too. That is why Trappist-1 and its planets have become the best hope now for life outside the earth.

The Trappist planets have one side permanently facing the star, have no day and night cycles and seasons and have one side boiling and the other side frozen. But the expectation is that the twilight zone between the two sides may be hospitable to life. The conditions there may not be suitable for terrestrial life. But this is not relevant because reaching there is an impossibility now. It is also likely that life may emerge in conditions very different from those on earth, as our idea of life is limited by our knowledge and experience. The search will continue, though there are also warnings that the discovery of alien life may not be good for humankind.
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