Is There Anybody Else Out There?

In “7 Earth-Size Planets Orbit Dwarf Star, NASA and European Astronomers Say,” the article reports of NASA finding an entire solar system outside of our galaxy and what makes it extraordinary is that there are seven Earth-sized planets. The popular question is are there any signs of life? Could those planets, one of out the seven of them support any life? Well, another important question that doesn’t seem to strike up enough attention, but very important is how did that solar system come to be in the first place? During this conceptual objective, it made me realize that was a burning question inside of me that I never even knew I lit the fire to. I’m always wondering how the universe itself, in general, came to be, but never thought about solar systems. And for something like solar systems, in the grand scheme of things, there are more answers out there for my burning question.

So what is a solar system? Or what comprises of solar system. Well, you need stars and you need planets. How do stars get there? Stars are born inside dust clouds, or nebulas, where dense concentration of gases and dust is gathered. These solar nebulas are large, relatively spherical shaped, slow in motion, and cold. When these nebulas collapse (usually instigated by supernovas), it begins to pick up it’s motion and temperature, spinning faster as it contracts and flattening the cloud into a disk-like shape.

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“The formation of the spinning disk explains the orderly motions of our solar system” (The Essential Cosmic Perspective).

This process shows how stars, like Trappist-1, are formed. Furthermore, we learned through the procession of the spinning disk, the clouds starts to shrink. That’s because the as the motion picks up speed, energy, and het, the debris from the dust cloud actually begin to collide and clump together. The leftover debris that doesn’t heat up enough and join the formation of the star may still clump together as the cycle continues, forming other space objects, such as asteroids or, even bigger clumps, planets.

So to recap, solar systems are created through the heating, spinning, and flattening of dust clouds, solar nebulas. Planets and stars are created through this process and planets are created from the “leftover” debris of the star formations. This was how our solar system was created, this was how the Trappist-1 solar system was created.

As you may have noticed there’s a distinct difference between the first four planets of our solar system and the last four. Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars are all terrestrial planets while Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune are gas planets. It is a mere coincidence it turned out like this? Of course not. Bringing back the idea mentioned earlier as the nebula begins to clump together, it’s temperature rises. In the early stages of the solar system, the debris closer to the star were hotter, thus clumping into solid, rocky planets, like the first four. Their energies were much too high to condense together like the Jovian planets, which is why there is a distinct difference in composition of the planets closest to the Sun and the rest. The seven planets mentioned in the article, scientists believe that these planets may have water. Applying what we learned so far, with this simple detail, we already know so much more about the seven planets’ compositions than what the article is neglecting to tell us. This is how knowing this little bit of basic astronomy can go a long way.

Now that we understand the formation of solar systems, let’s take a closer look at the relationship between the solar system’s star and it’s planets. We learned through a lecture tutorial that the planets’ orbits actually also cause the star to orbit. The gravitational attraction between the two causes the star to make a small orbit around the solar system’s center of mass. They both take the same amount of time to orbit because, as we saw through the simulation in class, the planet’s orbital speed is faster than that of the star.

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It’s important for people to understand the formation of solar systems because as it states in the article, the Trappist-1 is a red, dwarf planets and this particular type of star is pretty common. With this, we may be able to locate more and more solar systems out there and maybe one day be able to answer the more popular burning question (when we have the information) are there any other signs of life out there. The article mentions that “even if the planets all turn out to be lifeless, scientists will have learned more about what keeps life from flourishing”. And by that, it means that they’re not losing hope because wherever there’s a star, this solidifies that there will be planets. By understanding the nature of solar systems, stars, and planets, we’re able to put another piece into the puzzle and this allows us to one day, in the very distant future, be able to finally complete it.

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