NASA scientists have just discovered seven Earth-sized planets in orbit around a nearby dwarf star. There is a solid chance that they have water on them. Water could mean life. Life could mean intelligent life. Intelligent life could mean...friends? Or interplanetary conquerors! But we're getting ahead of ourselves. This is already really, really cool.
"This is the first time so many planets of this kind are found around the same star," said Michael Gillon, an astronomer at the University of Liege in Belgium, in a NASA press briefing. He's the principal investigator on the team observing the exoplanets (or: planets not in our solar system) and Trappist-1, the dwarf star they revolve around.
The planets' discovery is significant because of their proximity -- 235 trillion miles is a hop, skip, and a jump away in StarSpeak™ -- and the fact that their orbital orientation around Trappist-1 conveniently allows us to study them closely with NASA's orbital telescopes like the Spitzer Space Telescope and the Hubble. While all of the planets are closer to Trappist-1 than Mercury is to our sun, the dwarf star is cool enough that the planets could still retain water. That raises the stakes for astronomers everywhere to find the key to life off-world.
"Answering the question 'are we alone' is a top science priority," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "Finding so many planets like these for the first time in the habitable zone is a remarkable step forward toward that goal."
To accompany the announcement, NASA has created a few videos and 3D visualizations and artist renderings of what the planets might look like. Feel free to browse them below before you stock up on beans for when we get conquered by aliens.