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Artist's illustration of the seven planets of TRAPPIST-1 and the Earth. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The densities of seven potentially rocky planets orbiting a star 40 light-years away are surprisingly similar, according to a new study.

Why it matters: The finding is unusual because the planets in our solar system have different densities. Scientists can use the new data to home in on whether these planets, that appear similar in some ways to our own but form differently, might be suitable for life.

What they found: Seven planets orbiting the red dwarf star TRAPPIST-1 appear to all have similar densities, according to a new study in the Planetary Science Journal.

  • That measurement suggests the planets have similar ratios of iron, magnesium, oxygen, silicon and other materials.
  • These planets are about 8% less dense than they would be if they had compositions like Earth's, according to NASA.
  • "The TRAPPIST-1 system is fascinating because around this one star we can learn about the diversity of rocky planets within a single system," Caroline Dorn, an author of the paper, said in a statement. "And we can actually learn more about a planet by studying its neighbors as well, so this system is perfect for that."

Yes, but: These planets appear to be rocky instead of enveloped in a thick, gaseous atmosphere, but not much is known about their potential habitability.

  • All seven of the TRAPPIST-1 planets orbits are within what would be Mercury's orbit around our Sun.
  • While at least three of the planets orbit in an area where water could exist on their surfaces, it's not clear how conducive a red dwarf star would be to hosting life, as they are thought to be more volatile stars than our relatively mild Sun.

Go deeper

6 hours ago - Health

Fauci: Omicron variant will "inevitably" be found in U.S.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, cautioned on Sunday that the COVID-19 Omicron variant will "inevitably" be found in the United States.

Driving the news: Fauci, Biden's chief medical adviser, told ABC's George Stephanopoulos on "This Week" that U.S. officials will meet with colleagues from South Africa later on Sunday to try to determine the severity of the cases, as countries scramble to learn more about the variant.

Updated 8 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Dems fear supply-chain blame

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

As supply-chain kinks drive up prices and disrupt holiday shopping, Democrats are scrambling to show action and deflect blame.

Why it matters: With their party controlling both the White House and Capitol, vulnerable Democrats worry supply-chain snafus will hurt them in next year's midterms.

8 hours ago - World

Scoop: Germany urges Congress not to sanction Putin’s pipeline

Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

The German government has urged members of Congress not to sanction the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, arguing that doing so will "weaken" U.S. credibility and "ultimately damage transatlantic unity," according to documents obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: At a time when roughly 100,000 Russian troops are massing at its border, Ukraine views Nord Stream 2 as an existential threat to its security. The pipeline would circumvent Ukrainian transit infrastructure and deliver Russian gas directly to Germany, eliminating one of the last deterrents Ukraine has against an invasion.

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