In an adorable cartoon, Earth is seen peering out into space with a telescope as the moon ― a.k.a. “Earth’s little buddy,” as Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield described it ― watches from behind.
That’s when Earth comes across one lone exoplanet smiling back at it, leading to an ambush of six other cosmic characters. One even waves back.
The colorful doodle, which was crafted by Nate Swinehart, graced the home page one day after NASA announced the discovery of seven exoplanets some 40 light-years away, part of what scientists have named the TRAPPIST-1 system ― after the TRAPPIST telescope that found them. Exoplanets are planets orbiting a star that is not our sun.
All seven are described as Earth-sized, and at least three of them are in the habitable zone of the star, where a planet is most likely to contain liquid water. However, scientists said that under the right conditions, all seven could potentially have water.
NASA said the discovery is the largest of its kind.
“This discovery could be a significant piece in the puzzle of finding habitable environments, places that are conducive to life,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Answering the question ‘are we alone’ is a top science priority and finding so many planets like these for the first time in the habitable zone is a remarkable step forward toward that goal.”