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So you’ve heard the big news: there’s a new planet in town. Actually, there are seven of them, not that far away from our solar system (around 39 light years – 12.1 parsecs if you prefer imperial measurements).
You and your better half decided to spend a weekend on the exoplanets orbiting around TRAPPIST-1, so you buy the tickets, pack your stuff and suit up for the great adventure.
Here’s our recipe for this week’s best interstellar bang for your bucks.
So you’ve reached the star. You start complaining that it looked much bigger in picture: you’re actually quite right. This star is an ultra-cool dwarf, being only 10% of the mass of our sun. Do not worry though, the closeness of the planets to the star more than offsets for this temperature and light inconvenience.
Downside? Selfies might look quite red because of the effect of that the low temperature and the small mass have on the light spectrum.
Upside? You can probably leave your sunscreen home for this time.
First stop are the three planets closest to the star (b, c and d). Be sure to pack some water for the first day or be ready to pay a little premium for it: since they lie outside the habitable zone, it’s probably too close to the star to have naturally occurring liquid water.
Downside? These planets’ orbits are quite fast (1.5 to 4 days), and they vary across the system. It may look like a mess from the surface, so beware of “motion sickness”.
Upside? The other planets of the system will make for an incredible and eye-catching view. They will look as close as the moon is to our earth. Just twice as big.
notes: be sure to book a room on the bright side of one of the planets. We still aren’t really that sure about atmospheric composition and because of the small distance planets are “locked”, as the moon is to the earth, only showing one face to the star. Thus it might get quite cold on the dark side of the TRAPPIST.
It’s the second (terrestrial) day, and you decide to venture out for the “habitable” planets, namely, e, f, and g. They look quite like the earth, but don’t remove your helmet as soon as you arrive: rather ask your tour guide for atmospheric conditions and just THEN you may do it. As humans we have quite limited vision capabilities, and, as such, we have to rely on what is called the transition method to analyse the composition of a celestial body. We basically wait for one of these “rocks” to pass in front of a star to see what is its effect on the spectrum of the quality of light emitted.
So no, you can’t really photobomb this picture.
This is the habitable zone: it means that you may be able to find liquid water, algae and bacteria of various type and, if you are lucky, also more complex forms of life. Beware though, up to date we still don’t know about either one or the other. Take plenty of pictures as they may be useful.
The climate is pretty good, should this planets have an atmosphere, and the quantity of light that they receive can be compared to the one the Earth receives, in the case of planet e, or Mars, in the case of planet f.
If you have some time to spare before flying back, there is this last planet, h, where water isn’t available in liquid form, but rather as ice. Your significant other will love ice-skating while under a sky with a star and six other Earth-like planets.
So, it’s the end of this marvellous trip. You have seen new worlds and hopefully new entities roaming around incredible landscapes painted in a different light wavelength.
One last tip: be sure to bring lots of books or to charge you Kindle up to 100%: 39 light years might seem like a reasonable amount of time, but it will take you something like hundreds of thousands of years to get there even if you had access to the fastest, most powerful rocket available to date, the Saturn V.
Spoiler Alert: you don’t.
Get the latest space updates every Sunday here on International Space Sunday, or follow me on twitter @carlostoppani.
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