A Second Look
For those enthralled by the first images of TRAPPIST-1 system from NASA, here's some good news: the space agency recently released even more photos. The raw images of the seven recently discovered Earth-like planets are a product of three months' worth of snapshots taken by the Kepler telescope as part of its K2 mission.
"We were lucky that the K2 mission was able to observe TRAPPIST-1. The observing field for Campaign 12 was set when the discovery of the first planets orbiting TRAPPIST-1 was announced, and the science community had already submitted proposals for specific targets of interest in that field," explained Michael Haas, Kepler and K2 missions science office director at NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, California. "The unexpected opportunity to further study the TRAPPIST-1 system was quickly recognized and the agility of the K2 team and science community prevailed once again."
Though the TRAPPIST-1 system's discovery was only announced in February, Kepler started examining the system last December 15, 2016 and wrapped up their initial viewing on March 4, 2017.
Signs of Life?
"Scientists and enthusiasts around the world are invested in learning everything they can about these Earth-size worlds," said Geert Barentsen, a K2 research scientist. "Providing the K2 raw data as quickly as possible was a priority to give investigators an early look so they could best define their follow-up research plans. We're thrilled that this will also allow the public to witness the process of discovery."
There's no surprise that TRAPPIST-1 has captured our world's fascination: three of the seven exoplanets could be orbiting in the dwarf star's habitable zone, and on top of that, it looks like the conditions for life are present. For now, scientists have to observe more closely — and the images form Kepler are a great place to start. In the coming months, our ability to study the TRAPPIST-1 system will be greatly enhanced by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which is an infrared telescope like Kepler, but equipped with more powerful lenses and mirrors.