UCLan team helps to find new planets

An artist's impression on how the surface of one of the Trappist-1 planets could look
An artist's impression on how the surface of one of the Trappist-1 planets could look
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Scientists from Preston played a key part in the major new discovery of what could be Earth-like planets in outer space.

NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has revealed the first known system of seven Earth-size planets around a single star.

Three of these planets are in an area called the habitable zone, where liquid water is most likely to thrive on a rocky planet, suggesting there could be life.

The exoplanet system is called Trappist-1 and last May researchers using Trappist announced they had discovered three planets in the system. Now, with the help of counterparts in Europe they have found another five.

Dr Daniel Holdsworth, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Central Lancashire’s Jeremiah Horrocks Institute, is one of the European scientists involved in the project and monitored the Trappist-1 system in an attempt to measure the transit of the outer most planet in the system.

He said: “The Trappist-1 planetary system hosts the largest number of exoplanets close enough to their parent star that liquid water might exist. By precisely monitoring the brightness of the host star, we have been able to detect the planets as they pass in front of the star and block a small amount of light.

“By knowing how big the star is, and how much light is blocked, we can calculate how big the planets are.”

He added that, at just 40 light years away, the star is close enough to study and said: “As the Trappist-1 star is very cool, just 2,550 degrees (compared to the Sun at 6,000 degrees) the team used NASA’s Spitzer space telescope, which is very sensitive to red light, to monitor the star for 500 hours.These data, in conjunction with that from some of the largest telescopes around the world, lead to this fantastic discovery.”