The TRAPPIST-1 system recently discovered using NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope was a big find for scientists. Not only does it have seven planets, but three of them are in the “habitable zone” of the star, where life could potentially exist. But what TRAPPIST-1 look like? In a word, Atari.
An animation released by NASA shows the star with with some shifting brightness indicating the planets. At 235 trillion miles away, seeing stuff like this is difficult at best. Scientists looking for evidence of exoplanets look more for the evidence of planets than of the planets themselves.
If you squint really hard… you still won’t see it
The team watched the star for 74 days before announcing the discovery, and the image above is the result of 60 photos, taken once a minute over an hour.
Making discovering the star and this animation much more difficult is the fact that the star at the center is an ultra-cool dwarf star, meaning it’s very dim compared to many stars including our sun (which you might remember is only a middle-sized star). The change in brightness when an exoplanet crosses in front of it is less than one percent.
That we can see it at all with all those obstacles is nothing short of amazing.