Astronomers announced on 22th of February this year that TRAPPIST-1, an ultracool dwarf hosts 7 Earth-sized planets that are believed to be rocky. This discovery was made by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope with the help of other ground-based telescopes. The Kepler space telescope has also been observing this diminutive star since the end of 2016. It gives us today additional data about the TRAPPIST-1.
Kepler collected data for the star in the period of 15th December to 4th March during its K2 mission.It measured the changes in the star brightness caused by its planets. These new observations will give astronomers more accurate measurements of the planets, study the magnetic activity of the star and find the orbit and period of the seventh planet, TRAPPIST-1h.
“Scientists and enthusiasts around the world are invested in learning everything they can about these Earth-size worlds,” said Geert Barentsen, K2 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.”
This will give credence to the proposals of astronomers to have more telescopes looking at TRAPPIST-1 this winter. The full calibrated data will be available to the public in May this year.
K2 Campaign 12 observation period is going to be 74 days of monitoring the cold dwarf. This will be the longest observations of the star, and will help astronomers to study the gravitational interactions between the planets and look for any other planet that might’ve been missed.
However, TRAPPIST-1 was not in the region that K2 Campaign was going to observate. This was in the late 2015, before the discovery of any planets around this star were made.
In may 2016 it was announced that three planets orbit TRAPPIST-1, then the researchers at NASA and Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. remade the commands of the spacecraft and changed the observed region. By the end of next year, Kepler was ready to observer the ultracool dwarf.
“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,” said Michael Haas, director of the missions. “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.”
These new refinements about the already known planets and the possibly missed ones will help astronomers to plan the next studies about TRAPPIST-1 with the James Webb Space Telescopes that comes in 2018.