Amid a heat wave that has guys in shorts walking around Chicago in February like khaki-clad canaries in a global climate-change coal mine, some good news: NASA has discovered a solar system with seven Earth-like planets where we could maybe move after we’ve used up all the resources on this one. The agency announced the discovery of the planets orbiting the star TRAPPIST-1—located 12 parsecs, or approximately 40 light years, from Earth—at a press conference earlier this afternoon, with details published in the science journal Nature shortly thereafter.
NASA describes TRAPPIST-1 as an “ultra-cool dwarf star,” which, besides sounding like a compliment you might give to Peter Dinklage, means that it burns at a lower temperature, and therefore will last about a thousand times longer, than our sun—approximately 10 trillion years, according to Vocativ. This, plus the fact that all of the planets could potentially have liquid water and six of them have masses similar to that of Earth, means that the odds are good that some sort of life has developed in the system, or at least on one of the three most habitable planets at its center. Better odds than those of life developing in our solar system, actually.
If and when we do develop the technology to come visit our friends—at least, we hope they’re friends—in the TRAPPIST-1 system, we’ll encounter six planets bunched so close together that neighboring planets appear as moon-like orbs in the sky next to a gigantic sun, sort of like the two suns on Tatooine:
We can then make a joke through our universal language translators about how we got there in less than 12 parsecs and get confused looks from our alien hosts, because they don’t have Star Wars in the TRAPPIST-1 system. It will be hilarious. In the meantime, we’ll just have to wait until NASA finishes its James Webb Space Telescope, the high-tech successor to the Hubble telescope, so it can spy on our newly discovered space neighbors.