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Did beer just help us find new planets?

Beer's connection to the newly discovered Trappist-1 planets
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Image thanks to NASA-JPL/Caltech

Image courtesy NASA-JPL/Caltech

Those who follow science news will know that NASA has announced the discovery of seven Earth-size planets orbiting a star a mere 40 million light years away—in our backyard, astronomically speaking. Scientists say these planets all have the potential for water, and thus life.

What’s less obvious in news reports is beer’s small role in helping to fuel the discovery.

The planets orbit a small dwarf star called Trappist-1. That name comes from the TRAPPIST telescope that spotted it, located in Chile but designed and controlled by scientists in Belgium.

Ostensibly TRAPPIST is an acronym for TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope. But they’re not fooling anyone. The Belgian scientists contrived the name to honor their country’s famous brewing monks.

“The name TRAPPIST was given to the telescope to underline the Belgian origin of the project,” according to a 2010 announcement from the European Southern Observatory, based in Germany but with telescopes in Chile’s Atacama desert.

“Trappist beers are famous all around the world and most of them are Belgian,” the announcement said. “Moreover, the team members really appreciate them!”

An international team of scientists discovered the star and its potential for planets, publishing their findings in Nature in May 2016. Only recently were they able to count seven of the planets, all said to be “temperate” and similar in size to Earth.

Incidentally the scientists classify this nearby dwarf star as “ultracool.” As if we didn’t already know.

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