Like no other
That brings us to five planets. Intensive studies using both the TRAPPIST telescope and NASA’s Spitzer telescope helped refine the orbit of the planets and drew out the presence of two more from the data. TRAPPIST-1b, -1c, -1f, and -1g are all very slightly larger than Earth. -1e is slightly smaller than Earth. -1d and -1h are closer to Mars in size.
While the exact masses and orbital periods aren’t known yet, preliminary results suggest that they may be in resonance. That means that when -1b orbits eight times, -1c completes five orbits, often marked as 8:5. -1c and -1d are in 5:3 resonance; -1d and -1e are in 3:2, as are -1e and -1f. -1f and -1g are in 4:3.
All of them seem to be in the habitable zone of TRAPPIST-1. That means that they could, under the right conditions, sustain surface water, but there’s no proof that any of the planets do. For instance, in our solar system Venus and Mars are in the habitable zone, but both are fairly inhospitable in our present time.
Of the seven, the researchers believe that -1e, -1f, and -1g are the likeliest to be habitable based on where they sit in the solar system.
While seven planets have been confirmed, that’s not all the system may hold in store.
“It is just the beginning for many reasons — there might be more on top of that,” Julien de Wit, a co-author on the paper, says.
Slow your roll
There are other considerations before we declare the planets quite ripe for life, though. M-dwarf stars like TRAPPIST-1 tend to start out very active with high energy flare events. This could strip away the atmosphere of young planets.