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Il sistema delle sette Terre – VIDEO – (NASA Telescope Reveals Largest Batch of Earth-Size, Habitable-Zone Planets Around Single Star)

Sistema 7 terre
 Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech . View this and many more images, as well as several videos, in an extensive multimedia gallery highlighting this discovery. NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has revealed the first known system of seven Earth-size planets around a single star.

Il sistema delle sette Terre che può ospitare gli alieni

L’annuncio della Nasa: probabile la presenza di oceani di acqua liquida

Siamo soli o non siamo soli nell’Universo? Chi ama il tormentone ha da ieri sera un motivo in più per estenuarsi: a Washington il professor Thomas Zurbichen ha dichiarato, con gravità e convinzione, che adesso «rispondere alla domanda è una priorità della scienza».

Il motivo di tanta eccitazione c’è e l’ha spiegato Michael Gillon, l’astronomo dell’Università di Liegi che ha coordinato lo studio internazionale: «Siamo di fronte a un sistema planetario stupefacente». Sette pianeti, più o meno delle dimensioni della Terra. Tutti in orbita intorno a una stella nana, battezzata «Trappist-1», e tutti potrebbero ospitare oceani di acqua liquida. Tre sembrano ideali per la vita. Aliena.

  • LEGGI ANCHE: Soperti altri 7 pianeti: è l’inizio di una rivoluzione (VIDEO)

Gli altri cloni della Terra finora individuati – e sono tanti, all’incirca 5 mila – erano come enigmatiche palle di roccia sparse qua e là nella galassia. Stavolta, invece, la scoperta riguarda «sette fratelli», compressi in orbite ravvicinate. Formano un sistema solare in miniatura, simile per dimensioni a quello di Giove con le proprie lune, ma con la Terra condividono la massa e alcune caratteristiche. Si trovano infatti – tre in particolare – nella «zona di abitabilità», vale a dire non troppo lontani né troppo vicini al loro sole. Così laggiù non si dovrebbe finire istantaneamente bolliti o prematuramente congelati.

Trappist-1 System 5_lineup_pia21422-png

*a seguire: NASA Telescope Reveals Largest Batch of Earth-Size, Habitable-Zone Planets Around Single Star*

E in più – e questo aspetto ha ulteriormente emozionato gli studiosi – i «Sette» sono vicini a noi, almeno secondo le controintuitive logiche astronomiche: 40 anni-luce, 40 volte la distanza percorsa dalla luce in un anno. Che per i patiti di cifre e viaggi interstellari – ha calcolato la Nasa – significano 235 trilioni di miglia. Scrutando il cielo, sono prossimi alla costellazione dell’Acquario e li si può immaginare come un variegato condominio alieno, esuberante nelle possibilità di declinare forme viventi diverse.

Qualche esempio: «Trappist-1» è più piccola e decisamente meno luminosa del nostro Sole e le simil-Terre compiono un’orbita completa in pochi giorni. Un anno può equivalere, laggiù, a 12 giorni. Non solo. È possibile che i pianeti siano «legati» in modo particolare alla stella, esponendo sempre la stessa metà alla loro fonte energetica. Così una parte sarebbe accarezzata da un giorno perenne e l’altra schiacciata da una notte senza fine, con venti impetuosi a collegare le due zone.

Simil-Terre sì, ma con potenziali aspetti tutti loro, tanto che Zurbuchen ha commentato che possono essere «un pezzo del grande puzzle rappresentato dalla ricerca di habitat favorevoli alla vita». Le osservazioni quindi proseguiranno, affinando il lavoro del «Very Large Telescope» nel deserto cileno di Atacama e quello, nello spazio, di un altro telescopio, lo «Spitzer» della Nasa: astronomi ed esobiologi promettono che la scoperta è soltanto l’inizio di un lungo percorso di raccolta dati. Prossimo passo? Capire se i «Sette» possiedono un’atmosfera e che tipo di aria si respira a 40 anni luce da noi. Qui sulla Terra, intanto, l’atmosfera è euforica. Il prof Gillon è riuscito a battezzare la stella che è il motore di tutto con il nome della birra-simbolo del Belgio – Trappist, appunto – e alle future tecniche di studio ha dato il nome di «Speculoos», lo stesso dei biscotti di cui vanno golosi i suoi connazionali. Cerchiamo gli alieni con impegno e qualche fragorosa risata.

lastampa/GABRIELE BECCARIA

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NASA Telescope Reveals Largest Batch of Earth-Size, Habitable-Zone Planets Around Single Star

Three of these planets are firmly located in the habitable zone, the area around the parent star where a rocky planet is most likely to have liquid water.

The discovery sets a new record for greatest number of habitable-zone planets found around a single star outside our solar system. All of these seven planets could have liquid water – key to life as we know it – under the right atmospheric conditions, but the chances are highest with the three in the habitable zone.

“This discovery could be a significant piece in the puzzle of finding habitable environments, places that are conducive to life,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Answering the question ‘are we alone’ is a top science priority and finding so many planets like these for the first time in the habitable zone is a remarkable step forward toward that goal.”

Seven Earth-sized planets have been observed by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope around a tiny, nearby, ultra-cool dwarf star called TRAPPIST-1. Three of these planets are firmly in the habitable zone. Credits: NASA
Trappist-1 4_cover_pia21421-png
View full image and caption: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/spaceimages/details.php?id=PIA21421

At about 40 light-years (235 trillion miles) from Earth, the system of planets is relatively close to us, in the constellation Aquarius. Because they are located outside of our solar system, these planets are scientifically known as exoplanets.

This exoplanet system is called TRAPPIST-1, named for The Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST) in Chile. In May 2016, researchers using TRAPPIST announced they had discovered three planets in the system. Assisted by several ground-based telescopes, including the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope, Spitzer confirmed the existence of two of these planets and discovered five additional ones, increasing the number of known planets in the system to seven.

The new results were published Wednesday in the journal Nature, and announced at a news briefing at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Using Spitzer data, the team precisely measured the sizes of the seven planets and developed first estimates of the masses of six of them, allowing their density to be estimated.

Based on their densities, all of the TRAPPIST-1 planets are likely to be rocky. Further observations will not only help determine whether they are rich in water, but also possibly reveal whether any could have liquid water on their surfaces. The mass of the seventh and farthest exoplanet has not yet been estimated – scientists believe it could be an icy, “snowball-like” world, but further observations are needed.

“The seven wonders of TRAPPIST-1 are the first Earth-size planets that have been found orbiting this kind of star,” said Michael Gillon, lead author of the paper and the principal investigator of the TRAPPIST exoplanet survey at the University of Liege, Belgium. “It is also the best target yet for studying the atmospheres of potentially habitable, Earth-size worlds.”

In contrast to our sun, the TRAPPIST-1 star – classified as an ultra-cool dwarf – is so cool that liquid water could survive on planets orbiting very close to it, closer than is possible on planets in our solar system. All seven of the TRAPPIST-1 planetary orbits are closer to their host star than Mercury is to our sun. The planets also are very close to each other. If a person was standing on one of the planet’s surface, they could gaze up and potentially see geological features or clouds of neighboring worlds, which would sometimes appear larger than the moon in Earth’s sky.

The planets may also be tidally locked to their star, which means the same side of the planet is always facing the star, therefore each side is either perpetual day or night. This could mean they have weather patterns totally unlike those on Earth, such as strong winds blowing from the day side to the night side, and extreme temperature changes.

Spitzer, an infrared telescope that trails Earth as it orbits the sun, was well-suited for studying TRAPPIST-1 because the star glows brightest in infrared light, whose wavelengths are longer than the eye can see. In the fall of 2016, Spitzer observed TRAPPIST-1 nearly continuously for 500 hours. Spitzer is uniquely positioned in its orbit to observe enough crossing – transits – of the planets in front of the host star to reveal the complex architecture of the system. Engineers optimized Spitzer’s ability to observe transiting planets during Spitzer’s “warm mission,” which began after the spacecraft’s coolant ran out as planned after the first five years of operations.

“This is the most exciting result I have seen in the 14 years of Spitzer operations,” said Sean Carey, manager of NASA’s Spitzer Science Center at Caltech/IPAC in Pasadena, California. “Spitzer will follow up in the fall to further refine our understanding of these planets so that the James Webb Space Telescope can follow up. More observations of the system are sure to reveal more secrets.”

Following up on the Spitzer discovery, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has initiated the screening of four of the planets, including the three inside the habitable zone. These observations aim at assessing the presence of puffy, hydrogen-dominated atmospheres, typical for gaseous worlds like Neptune, around these planets.

This 360-degree panorama depicts the surface of a newly detected planet, TRAPPIST 1-d, part of a seven planet system some 40 light years away. Explore this artist’s rendering of an alien world by moving the view using your mouse or your mobile device. Credits: NASA

In May 2016, the Hubble team observed the two innermost planets, and found no evidence for such puffy atmospheres. This strengthened the case that the planets closest to the star are rocky in nature.

“The TRAPPIST-1 system provides one of the best opportunities in the next decade to study the atmospheres around Earth-size planets,” said Nikole Lewis, co-leader of the Hubble study and astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler space telescope also is studying the TRAPPIST-1 system, making measurements of the star’s minuscule changes in brightness due to transiting planets. Operating as the K2 mission, the spacecraft’s observations will allow astronomers to refine the properties of the known planets, as well as search for additional planets in the system. The K2 observations conclude in early March and will be made available on the public archive.

This poster imagines what a trip to TRAPPIST-1e might be like.
This poster imagines what a trip to TRAPPIST-1e might be like. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech – View full image: http://exoplanets.nasa.gov/resources/2159

Spitzer, Hubble, and Kepler will help astronomers plan for follow-up studies using NASA’s upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, launching in 2018. With much greater sensitivity, Webb will be able to detect the chemical fingerprints of water, methane, oxygen, ozone, and other components of a planet’s atmosphere. Webb also will analyze planets’ temperatures and surface pressures – key factors in assessing their habitability.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center, at Caltech, in Pasadena, California. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Littleton, Colorado. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at Caltech/IPAC. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

For more information about Spitzer, visit:

https://www.nasa.gov/spitzer

For more information on the TRAPPIST-1 system, visit:

https://exoplanets.nasa.gov/trappist1

For more information on exoplanets, visit:

https://www.nasa.gov/exoplanets

-end-

Felicia Chou / Sean Potter
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-1726 / 202-358-1536
[email protected] / [email protected]

Elizabeth Landau
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
818-354-6425
[email protected]

Last Updated: Feb. 22, 2017
Editor: Karen Northon
/nasa
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