In February, NASA shook the astronomical community by announcing the discovery of seven Earth-size planets orbiting a nearby star.
Remarkably, three of those planets orbit within the so-called “habitable zone”, meaning they could harbour water and life.
Now, the agency has revealed the first glimpse of the extraordinary TRAPPIST-1 system and, well, it’s pretty pixellated. But there’s a good reason for that.
The “target pixel file” shows the light detected by each pixel in a section of the camera onboard NASA’s Kepler space telescope on 22 February.
At the centre of the animation is TRAPPIST-1, the system’s ultra-cool dwarf star, which is located just 40 light-years from Earth. The image doesn’t show the system’s seven Earth-size planets.
The basic animation was released as part of a raw data dump that will help astronomers to learn more about the system and plan further research.
“Scientists and enthusiasts around the world are invested in learning everything they can about these Earth-size worlds,” said Geert Barentsen, a research scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center.
“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,” Barentsen added.
More refined data is set to be published in coming months, but this is a tantalising first look at a fascinating star system.
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Astronaut Charles Moss Duke, Jr. leaves a photograph of his family on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 16 lunar landing mission, 23rd April 1972.