NASA has put days of speculation to rest by announcing they have discovered seven planets in the orbit of nearby TRAPPIST-1 system. Despite some having inevitably hyped themselves up into believing that the National Aeronautical & Space Administration were about to unveil the discovery of extra-terrestrial life (which was already declared on 20th January, coincidentally), the new discovery heralds some exciting possibilities.

Three of the seven planets are located within the stars so-called habitable zone, the area around the star in which conditions should be sufficient to allow life to thrive.

The star system, TRAPPIST-1, is located a mere 40 light years from Earth. Okay, so that’s still 235 trillion miles, but in intergalactic terms that’s a stone’s throw.

“The seven wonders of TRAPPIST-1 are the first Earth-size planets that have been found orbiting this kind of star,” said Michael Gillon, the lead author of the paper. “It is also the best target yet for studying the atmospheres of potentially habitable, Earth-size worlds.”

The launch of the James Webb telescope next year should allow still further investigation. Provided all goes to plan, it will enable studies into the atmospheric conditions of the individual planets, and allow scientists to detect the presence of gases such as methane and oxygen.

Naturally, if oxygen were detected on a planet within the habitable zone, it would be by far and away the most promising candidate yet detected for life beyond our planet.