Where is TRAPPIST-1? How long would it take to get to TRAPPIST-1 from Earth?
NASA has announced the discovery of TRAPPIST-1 – a newly-found star with its own solar system of seven Earth-like planets. But where is TRAPPIST-1?
NASA telescope uncovers seven Earth-sized planets
What is TRAPPIST-1?
TRAPPIST-1 is a newly discovered star that is orbited by seven Earth-like exoplanets.
The planets are huddled closely to the star and all have smaller orbits than Mercury – the closest planet to our Sun.
Because TRAPPIST-1 is a small and ultra-cool dwarf star, the planets have a moderate temperature.
“The star is so small and cold that the seven planets are temperate, which means that they could have some liquid water and maybe life, by extension, on the surface,” said Michaël Gillon, an astrophysicist at the University of Liège in Belgium.
Three of the star’s planets are in the hospitable zone – meaning that they have the optimum temperature and conditions for finding signs of alien life.
Because the planets all have such a small orbit, the salmon-pink star could appear up to 10 times as large as our own Sun does in the sky.
Other planets would also appear regularly in the sky due to their close proximity.
The planets’ orbits range from 1.5 to 20 days. Some are thought to be tidally locked, meaning that they only show one face to the star.
TRAPPIST-1 is a newly discovered star orbited by seven Earth-like planets
A view from one of TRAPPIST-1’s planets as imagined by NASA
Where does TRAPPIST-1 take its name from?
The star takes its name from the telescope that discovered it: the Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope.
Its seven planets are simply named b, c, d, e, f, g, h – with ‘a’ reserved for the star itself.
Where is TRAPPIST-1?
The system is located in the Aquarius constellation, around 39 light-years (235 trillion miles) away from Earth.
NASA considers TRAPPIST-1 to be “relatively close” to Earth.
A view of the TRAPPIST-1 system from Earth as imagined by NASA
TRAPPIST-1’s planets have much smaller orbits than planets in our solar system
How long would it take to get to TRAPPIST-1 from Earth?
It would take 39 years to get to TRAPPIST-1 travelling at the speed of light, however no spacecraft could every move at such speeds.
According to Einstein’s theory of relativity, nothing can travel faster than the speed of light.
Using current technology it would take approximately thousands of years to travel the 39 light years from Earth to TRAPPIST-1.
New Horizons, the fastest spacecraft ever launched, is currently travelling out of our solar system at around 32,000 mph.
At this speed, it would take the ship around 317,000 years to reach TRAPPIST-1.
Another NASA craft, Juno, actually beat New Horizon’s speed last year when it approached Jupiter.
The gas giant’s gravity helped it to reach 165,000 mph, making it the fastest man-made object ever.
But even at this speed, it would take Juno 158,600 years to travel to TRAPPIST-1.