Local experts discuss astronomical discovery of Earth-like planets

Posted at 11:19 PM, Feb 22, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-22 23:21:13-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – It’s a story of cosmic proportions that’s throwing the astronomy community into orbit. On Wednesday, NASA announced the discovery of 7 Earth-sized planets orbiting a dwarf star 40 light years away, in a system they're calling TRAPPIST-1.

Astronomy experts say 3 of those 7 planets are orbiting in the habitable zone, where conditions are optimum for liquid water to exist.

“That star seems to have a Goldilocks Zone or a habitable zone,” says Dave DeBruyn, astronomy specialist at the Grand Rapids Public Museum. “Which is quite large too by comparison to a lot of other stars that have been investigated.”

They are all orbiting a red dwarf star much smaller than the star we orbit.

“It’s 8% as massive as our sun. That’s as small as stars can go,” says Lawrence Molnar, astronomy professor, Calvin College. “It might be quite common to have large groups of planets around these small stars and these small stars are one of the most common stars around.”

And since dwarf stars burn dimmer, their life span is infinitely longer.

“Stars this small, live so long that no one has ever died,” says Molnar.

Many scientists are hopeful to one day find the existence of life on other worlds like the newly discovered planets.

The truth is out there, and science may now know just where to look.

"They of course have been looking for other worlds out there similar to ours and they keep on finding them. It becomes more evident every day that there could be something out there," says Bill Konkolesky with the Michigan Chapter of the Mutual UFO Network.

"It's a subject that's fascinated me since I was a little kid and here I am 76 years old and still doing it," said DeBruyn.