Proxima-b got the whole world excited last month. The news about an earth-like planet rotating around the nearest star to the sun made a splash.
However, the bigger, and more exciting news that was overlooked was published last Tuesday. A group of scientists wrote a paper that seemed to offer a bigger promise of life beyond our solar system---and soon.
It has been called a "winning combination" for seeking chemical traces of life outside our solar system, according to Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher Julien de Wit, a co-author of the study, released by the journal Nature.
University of Liege astronomers in Belgium - lead study authors Michael Gillon and Emmanuel Jehin - built the Trappist telescope to observe 60 of the nearest ultra-cool dwarf stars. Belgian astronomers were able to pin down three Earth-size planets rotating around a dwarf planet nearby. One of these is in the habitable zone.
The single star, Trappist-1, is also the first such cool dwarf that orbiters managed to find.
Being so close as well as faint, it is possible to study the atmospheres of these three temperate exoplanets and finally look for signs of possible life.
"Why are we trying to detect Earth-like planets around the smallest and coolest stars in the solar neighborhood?" lead researcher Michaël Gillon asked.
"The reason is simple: Systems around these tiny stars are the only places where we can detect life on an Earth-sized exoplanet with our current technology. So if we want to find life elsewhere in the Universe, this is where we should start to look."
Steve Howell of NASA's Ames Research Center led the team. "This system is also going to be a very good target for many detailed follow-up efforts, especially those attempting to characterize the atmosphere of a rocky exoplanet," Howell said. "I would assume that the James Webb Space Telescope will target this system and work to get transit spectroscopy of the planets, particularly the habitable zone one."
How do astronomers locate life in the other planets, anyway? One of the tools they use is the Transit Spectroscopy, used find out elements like oxygen and methane in other atmospheres. As it helped scientists to detect Trappists-1 and its three planets, it proves that spectroscopy can by performed.
The entire system of Trappist-1 and the planets around it are about 10 times further from the sun than Proxima Centauri and its earth-like satellite, Proxima-b. Yet, that is pretty close if you look at it on the galactic scale.
"We might not see a nano craft like those Stephen Hawking and Yuri Milner's Breakthrough Starshot project want to send to Proxima-b reach the Trappist-1 system in our lifetimes. That journey would take 200 years. But it's possible we'll find evidence of life on the more distant Trappist planets long before we spy anything nearly so interesting on Proxima-b," writes cnet.
The findings were published Tuesday in Astrophysical Journal Letters.