Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the agency’s Science Mission Directorate located in Washington, said the following:
“This discovery could be a significant piece in the puzzle of finding habitable environments, places that are conducive to life,”
“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.”
TRAPPIST-1 refers to The Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST) in Chile. In May of 2016, researchers using TRAPPIST had discovered three planets. Assisted by various ground-based telescopes, including the European Southern Observatory’s Large Telescope, which increased the number of planets found in the system to seven exoplanets.
Using information recovered from the Spitzer telescope, the team could measure the sizes of planets in this system, and estimate the masses of six of them; allowing their density to be estimated. Based on these calculations, the TRAPPIST-1 planets are likely to be rock, except for the farthest exoplanet which has not been estimated, which scientists believe could be an icy world. Further analysis will possibly determine whether they are rich in water.
Michael Gillion, the principal investigator of the TRAPPIST exoplanet survey at the University of Liege, Belgium, said the following:
“The seven wonders of TRAPPIST-1 are the first Earth-size planets that have been found orbiting this kind of star,”
“It is also the best target yet for studying the atmospheres of potentially habitable, Earth-size worlds.”
When the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope – launching in 2018 – becomes operable, it will allow astronomers to detect the chemical fingerprints of “water, methane, oxygen, ozone, and other components of a planet’s atmosphere.