Stop the presses! What shade(s) of orange do you suppose extraterrestrial Donald Trumps might be?
"Now we have seven Earth-sized planets to expand our understanding. Yes, we have the possibility to find water and life. But even if we don't, whatever we find will be super interesting."
-- University of Liège "exoplanet researcher" Michaël Gillon
So here I was, wrestling with a post that would take off from a cluster of one upcoming and two just-forgotten birthdays, and last night's Real O'Neals and The Middle, so good that you have to wonder how they survived interference by the Disney-ABC network suits, and the whole consuming business of "fitting in" or not.
Joan Didion in the Deep South" (copyright by the author, curiously; note that the full piece is available only to subscribers or purchasers) about Joan Didion's about-to-be-published book South and West, which apparently consists of her actual notes for never-written pieces gathered during a month traveling the Gulf Coast in summer 1970 and a 1976 visit to San Francisco (in, of course, her native California) covering Patty Hearst's trial for Rolling Stone.
I'd already decided that probably it would have been split into two sure-to-be-riveting posts, when whap!, along comes this breaking news, and naturally all that other stuff has to be put on hold. I know that these seven planets aren't in our solar system, or anywhere near (note that the description of Trappist-1 as an "ultracool dwarf" isn't a value judgment but a description of the 39-light-years-distant star's temperature and size), but still, seven "Earthlike" planets? Get out of here! Just think, somewhere out there in space there could be seven officially extraterrestrial Donald Trumps! Do you suppose they would all come in the same shade(s) of orange?
Speaking of Science
Scientists discover 7 ‘Earthlike’ planets orbiting a nearby star
By Sarah Kaplan | February 22 at 1:00 PM
[SEE VIDEO CLIP ABOVE]
Three planets of the TRAPPIST-1 system resemble Earth in terms of size, mass, and the energy they receive from their star. (Reuters)
A newfound solar system just 39 light-years away contains seven warm, rocky, Earthlike planets, scientists say.
The discovery, reported Wednesday in the journal Nature, represents the first time astronomers have ever detected so many terrestrial planets orbiting a single star. Researchers say the system is an ideal laboratory for studying distant worlds and could be the best place in the galaxy to search for life beyond Earth.
“Before this, if you wanted to study terrestrial planets, we had only four of them and they were all in our solar system,” said lead author Michaël Gillon, an exoplanet researcher at the University of Liège in Belgium. “Now we have seven Earth-sized planets to expand our understanding. Yes, we have the possibility to find water and life. But even if we don't, whatever we find will be super interesting.”
The newly discovered solar system resembles a scaled-down version of our own. The star at its center, an ultracool dwarf called TRAPPIST-1, is less than a tenth the size of the sun and about a quarter as warm. Its planets circle tightly around it; the closest takes just a day and a half to complete an orbit, the most distant takes about 20 days. If these planets orbited a larger, brighter star they'd be fried to a crisp. But TRAPPIST-1 is so cool that all seven of the bodies are bathed in just the right amount of warmth to hold liquid water. And three of them receive the same amount of heat as Venus, Earth and Mars, putting them in “the habitable zone,” that Goldilocks region where it's thought life can thrive.
Still, “Earthlike” is a generous term to describe these worlds. Though the planets of the TRAPPIST-1 system resemble Earth in terms of size, mass, and the energy they receive from their star, there's a lot that makes our planet livable beside being a warm rock. Further observation is required to figure out what the TRAPPIST-1 planets are made of, if they have atmospheres, and whether they hold water, methane, oxygen and carbon dioxide — the molecules that scientists consider “biosignatures,” or signs of life.
“You can bet people will be rushing to take those measurements,” said Elisabeth Adams, an exoplanet researcher at the Planetary Science Institute who was not involved in the study. “That's going to be fascinating to see.”
An artist's conception of the view from the surface of the exoplanet TRAPPIST-1f. (NASA/JPL-Caltech) [Note: Click to enlarge. -- Ed.]
Whatever secrets it may harbor, the TRAPPIST-1 system will surely be a sight to behold. Though the star is small, its nearness to the planets means that, from their perspective, it appears about three times as large as our sun. The outermost planets enjoy the daily spectacle of their neighbors passing across the sky and in front of their shared sun, each world a large dark spot silhouetted against the salmon-colored star. Its dim glow, which skews toward the red and infrared end of the light spectrum, bathes the planets in warmth and paints their skies with the crimson hues of a perpetual sunset.
[There's more, ohsomuch more, which all you astronomy nerds out there can read onsite. -- Ed.]
WHEW! HOW EXCITING IS THIS?
Now, maybe Friday we can get back to the business originally plann for today.