California – NASA’s Kepler has been observing the TRAPPIST-1 star system including the seven potentially habitable planets and recently new data about the star and the planets has been released.
The Kepler mission collected data on the star’s minuscule changes in brightness due to transiting planets and according to the mission team this raw and uncalibrated data will enable astronomers prepare proposals due this month to use telescopes on Earth next winter to further investigate TRAPPIST-1.
The data is currently being processed by NASA and by end of May complete and fully calibrated data will also be made available at the public archive.
Kepler monitored TRAPPIST-1 for 74 days, a period known as K2 Campaign 12. During Campaign 12, a cosmic ray event reset the spacecraft’s onboard software causing a five-day break in science data collection. This is the longest, nearly continuous set of observations of TRAPPIST-1 yet, and provides researchers with an opportunity to further study the gravitational interaction between the seven planets, and search for planets that may remain undiscovered in the system.
The added refinements to the previous measurements of the known planets and any additional planets that may be discovered in the K2 data will help astronomers plan for follow-up studies of the neighboring TRAPPIST-1 worlds using NASA’s upcoming James Webb Space Telescope.
NASA also recently released a fully pixelated animation of the TRAPPIST-1 system which shows how each pixel has caught the light collected from TRAPPIST-1 star. Not directly visible in the movie are the seven Earth-size planets that orbit the star. Kepler has managed to detect a change in brightness when a planet passes in front of a star from the vantage point of the telescope.
According to the American space agency, transiting planets block a tiny fraction of starlight that produces miniscule dips in the brightness of their host star. An Earth-size planet passing in front of a small ultra-cool dwarf star like TRAPPIST-1 creates less than a one percent dip in brightness, and is not visible with the naked eye.
On February 22, NASA announced its big discovery of seven Earth-like planets around a TRAPPIST-1, with all of them possesing the characteristics of liquid water, which is the key to life.