Recently, astronomers in Chile observed the faintest twinkle of a tiny red star — and it turned out to be a huge deal.
The star, known as TRAPPIST-1, is a kind of dwarf star that can only be seen with the help of powerful telescopes. After further investigation, astronomers determined TRAPPIST-1 was an "ultra cool" dwarf that had three Earth-like planets revolving around it.
Previously, the brightness of certain stars has made it difficult for scientists to examine the characteristics of the planets orbiting them, but according to the Verge, TRAPPIST-1 is just dim enough and just close enough to Earth — about 40 light-years away — to study.
While two of the planets orbit closer to the star than Earth does to its sun, making liquid water unlikely, their dark sides may be the perfect temperature to sustain water. And if nothing else, scientists say the third, farther, planet holds the most promise for sustaining life.
"It's possible the outer one is in the habitable zone," the study's lead author Michaël Gillon told the Verge.
Scientists first found an Earth-like planet back in 2014 using the Kepler space telescope. But while it was roughly the size of Earth and in the "Goldilocks zone," allowing for water to flow on its surface, the planet was a whopping 490 light-years away.
At the time, the historic finding gave astronomers the knowledge that there were planets like this out there, even if they were beyond our solar system.
But despite the dozens of similar discoveries since, a new model of the universe suggests Earth still may be completely unique.
Indeed, astronomers are taking this recently discovered trio of Earth-like planets with a grain of salt. Stanford University professor Bruce Macintosh told the Verge, "It's a really nice result but it doesn't necessarily mean that these are going to be rocky habitable planets."