Photo Courtesy of Institute of Astronomy/Amanda Smith

TRAPPIST-I is a system containing seven planets comparable to Earth. They orbit a small star called an ultra-cool dwarf. The system was found when the planets passed in front of a star, casting a shadow also called  the transit. Further investigation will determine if life could exist there.



March 28, 2017

Cleveland State astronomer appears on NBC’s ‘In the Sky’

Cleveland State University’s Research Astronomer Jay Reynolds appeared on NBC’s “In The Sky” to discuss his take on the momentous discovery the same day the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the European Southern Observatory (ESO) released information on the existence of a planetary system similar to Earth’s solar system.

TRAPPIST-1 has been under surveillance by NASA and ESO since 2011.

In late 2016 to early 2017, the observations culminated in the realization that TRAPPIST-1 not only consists of planets orbiting a star comparable to the sun – they also orbit at distances comparable to Earth’s distance to the sun.

Of the seven planets, which are likely to have rocky surfaces, three of them are in the range that would keep the planets at temperatures safe for human existence.

On Feb. 22, after NASA and ESO released an announcement describing the system, Reynolds appeared on NBC’s “In The Sky” to discuss the discovery.

Reynolds, who has a long-standing career in astronomy and media, emphasized how important the distance between the sun-like star and the rocky planets is.

“Three of them that are not too close and not too far from the sun - that allows for temperatures that are safe for you and me,” Reynolds said. “This allows for the potential for water to be in the liquid state.”

While water exists throughout the universe, this distance allows it to exist on three of the seven planets in the system in a liquid state as opposed to a gaseous or solid state.

While the possibility of water, and in turn life, is exciting, this system is different because it is close enough to study. The system is about 39 light years away, which allows information to be gathered at a reasonable rate.

Before the research on TRAPPIST-1 can begins, Proxima Centauri, a star less than five light years away, will likely be the center of research, Reynolds said.

This star will be important in terms of research because it allows NASA and other organizations to collect data on a mass outside of Earth’s solar system.

The timeline for similar research would be stretched much longer than researching Proxima Centauri, but it is plausible.

This combination of characteristics surrounding TRAPPIST-1 makes it one of the largest astronomical discoveries in recent years. The James Webb Telescope, set to launch in 2018, should provide even more information about how similar to Earth these planets really are, according to Reynolds.


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