Raw Data on the TRAPPIST-1 Exoplanets Now Available

Fagjun | Published 2017-03-08 21:42

NASA has released raw data about the TRAPPIST-1 system from the Kepler space telescope.

Last month's announcement about the discovery of seven water-bearing exoplanets took the world by storm. It's unsurprising that many people from across the world are watching closely for new data on the intriguing star system.

Kepler had been closely observing the system from December 14, 2016 to March 4, 2017. NASA calls this period of observation K2 Campaign 12. Clocking in at 74 days, this is the longest observation period of TRAPPIST-1 to date.

Artist's rendering of Kepler on its K2 mission
[Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech]

It's almost mind-blowing that NASA almost completely missed discovering the now-famous star system. On October 2015, scientists set Kepler's coordinates in another region different from where the star system is. Fortunately, scientists discovered the first three known exoplanets in May 2016. They rerouted and reprogrammed Kepler to set its sights on our neighboring star system instead.

The data provided are raw and uncalibrated, and not really meant for the consumption of casual observers just yet. However, astronomers are encouraged to use the data to write proposals on further observations of the star system.

The raw data from Kepler are available for download here.

Discovery of TRAPPIST-1 Planets

On February 22, 2017, NASA announced the discovery of seven expolanets orbiting a single star in the constellation Aquarius. According to findings, all seven of the planets had water, which is key to the formation of life. Three of the planets—a record-breaking number—are in the habitable zone.

The star system is 40 lightyears, or 235 trillion miles, away from Earth. Of course, that's quite a long distance away, but it's relatively close.

The system's star is an ultra-cool dwarf whose temperature allows the closest planets in the system to have liquid water. Interestingly, the farthest planet in the system is closer to its star than Mercury is to the sun. This means that all the planets are quite close together. In fact, one planet's surface features, like clouds, may even be visible from another planet.

TRAPPIST-1 planets are much closer together than the planets in our solar system.

The planets also seem to be tidally-locked to the star. This means that unlike the planets in our system, one side of the TRAPPIST-1 planets are perpetually dark. This may be an indication that the weather patterns on those planets are vastly different from the ones on Earth.

Looking Forward

So are these planets habitable? Is there evidence that alien life on the planets is possible?

As of now, the answer to both those questions is still “maybe”. That may be the answer for quite a long time to come. Presently, the K2 mission is concerned with the possibility of finding out if the system has more planets. Astronomers are also more concerned with calibrating the raw data from Kepler. Though developments on new discoveries are certainly exciting, we may have to wait a while. Don't forget about our exoplanet neighbors, though, because they're certainly something to keep an eye on.

The calibrated and fully processed data will be publicly available at the end of May. Mark your calendars, because we may learn another interesting or shocking bit of information about TRAPPIST-1.

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