Here's the first real look at TRAPPIST-1, the star with 7 Earth-sized planets

Hey there, little star.

A new set of images taken by NASA's Kepler Space Telescope shows a faint, pixelated view of TRAPPIST-1, a small, dim star 40 light-years from Earth that plays host to at least seven Earth-sized worlds.

While the GIF showing the star's brightness isn't much to look at, it's worth its weight in scientific gold.

It's also the public's first real look at the exciting star system, which could be orbited by at least one habitable planet.

By carefully analysing how the light of the star changes from one photo to the next, scientists can detect planets passing in front of the star from Kepler's perspective.

The small dips in light caused by a transit allow researchers to characterize the planets orbiting the star, and learn more about the worlds' masses, sizes and orbits.


"An Earth-size planet passing in front of a small ultra-cool dwarf star like TRAPPIST-1 creates less than a one per cent dip in brightness, and is not visible with the naked eye," NASA said in a statement.

The flickering of the pixels in the new animation aren't actually dips in the brightness of the star, according to NASA. Instead, those variations in light are caused by algorithms correcting for Kepler's movements in space. (Basically, whenever scientists use data from telescopes in space, they need to correct for whatever movements the telescope is making in order to parse out signal from noise.)

This animation - which shows the photos taken once each minute for about an hour on Feb. 22 - is just a small sampling of months of data collected by Kepler as it stared at TRAPPIST-1.

The space telescope took photos of the star system for 74 days from Dec. 15, 2016 through March 4.

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