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These 121 pixels are so much more interesting than you think

Published Mar 13th, 2017 8:31PM EDT
exoplanet news
Image: NASA

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Space news moves pretty fast, which is why you’ve probably already forgotten about the extremely cool discovery NASA and astronomers from around the world announced late last month. The announcement that seven roughly Earth-sized exoplanets were discovered orbiting a nearby star called TRAPPIST-1 was, and still is, big news, and today we finally get our first glimpse at what the star looks like.

Okay, so perhaps “glimpse” is even overselling it a bit, as the images and data released by NASA is at a lower resolution than an Atari 2600 title screen, but at least it’s something.

The GIF above represents an hour’s worth of light data gathered by the Kepler telescope. The extremely bright area in the center of the 121-pixel image is TRAPPIST-1 in all its glory. Given the incredibly low resolution of the image, none of the actual exoplanets are visible, but the data tells us that they’re definitely there.

The animation was released as part of a data dump recently released by NASA to help scientists further hone their approach to studying TRAPPIST-1 and its nearby planets. If you’re so inclined, you can dive deeper into the facts and figures that the agency has amassed on its website.

Because of the star’s distance from Earth — roughly 40 light years, according to the brains at NASA — the image isn’t actually the current state of the star, but rather what it looked like 40 years ago. So, you’re technically looking at one of our nearby celestial neighbors as it existed in 1977 or so, which is kind of extra cool.