Preston man helps discover exoplanet that could contain alien life

Posted on - 26th February, 2017 - 12:00pm | Author - | Posted in - Business, Preston News, UCLan
Dr Daniel Holdsworth worked on the NASA project
Dr Daniel Holdsworth worked on the NASA project

A Preston researcher has helped discover seven Earth-sized planets around a single star.

Dr Daniel Holdsworth is one of the scientists involved in the project.

The planets, three of which are located within a ‘habitable zone’, are within the constellation Aquarius.

The exoplanet is about 40 light years, or 235 trillion miles, from Earth.

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Called TRAPPIST-1 by Nasa the planets are the most likely to have liquid water on them.

Dr Holdsworth said: “The TRAPPIST-1 planetary system hosts the largest number of exoplanets close enough to their parent star that liquid water might exist. By precisely monitoring the brightness of the host star, we have been able to detect the planets as they pass in front of the star and block a small amount of light. By knowing how big the star is, and how much light is blocked, we can calculate how big the planets are. The planets are small and rocky and are comparable in size to the Earth. At just 40 light years away, this makes TRAPPIST-1 a prime target to study the atmospheres of exoplanets to search for traces of water, and even life, in this nearby solar system.

“As the TRAPPIST-1 star is very cool, just 2,550 degrees (compared to the Sun at 6,000 degrees) the team used NASA’s Spitzer space telescope, which is very sensitive to red light, to monitor the star for 500 hours. These data, in conjunction with data collected at some of the largest telescopes around the world, lead to this fantastic discovery.”

Dr Holdsworth works as a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Central Lancashire’s Jeremiah Horrocks institute.

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