VIDEO: Astronomers Confirm Orbital Details of TRAPPIST-1’s Least Understood Planet

By  //  May 23, 2017

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NASA's Kepler Space Telescope maqkes discovery

ABOVE VIDEO: The animation shows a simulation of the planets of TRAPPIST-1 orbiting for 90 Earth-days. After 15 Earth-days, the animation focuses only on the outer three planets: TRAPPIST-1f, TRAPPIST-1g, TRAPPIST-1h. The motion freezes each time two adjacent planets pass each other; an arrow appears pointing to the location of the third planet. (NASA’s Ames Research Center)

(NASA) – Scientists using NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope identified a regular pattern in the orbits of the planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system that confirmed suspected details about the orbit of its outermost and least understood planet, TRAPPIST-1h.

TRAPPIST-1 is only eight percent the mass of our sun, making it a cooler and less luminous star. It’s home to seven Earth-size planets, three of which orbit in their star’s habitable zone—the range of distances from a star where liquid water could pool on the surface of a rocky planet.

The system is located about 40 light-years away in the constellation of Aquarius and is estimated to be between 3 billion and 8 billion years old.

Scientists announced that the system has seven Earth-sized planets at a NASA press conference on Feb. 22. NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, the TRAPPIST (Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope) in Chile and other ground-based telescopes were used to detect and characterize the planets.

But the collaboration only had an estimate for the period of TRAPPIST-1h.

Astronomers from the University of Washington have used data from the Kepler spacecraft to confirm that TRAPPIST-1h orbits its star every 19 days. At six million miles from its cool dwarf star, TRAPPIST-1h is located beyond the outer edge of the habitable zone, and is likely too cold for life as we know it.

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The amount of energy (per unit area) planet h receives from its star is comparable to what the dwarf planet Ceres, located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, gets from our sun.

“It’s incredibly exciting that we’re learning more about this planetary system elsewhere, especially about planet h, which we barely had information on until now,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at Headquarters in Washington.

“This finding is a great example of how the scientific community is unleashing the power of complementary data from our different missions to make such fascinating discoveries.”

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