Big news this past week for all you star-gazers out there: The Trappist telescope, run by Belgian scientists but located high in the Chilean Andes, has discovered the existence of a solar system that likely includes planets like ours. The system has been named the Trappist system, after the telescope, which the Belgian scientists named for their favorite beer, brewed by Trappist monks in Belgium. Belgians love beer. Other scientists may try to say it’s actually an acronym for “The Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope–South”, but don’t believe it. It’s named for beer.
So is the star which has been dubbed “Trappist-1”. It’s an “ultra-cool dwarf”, something like Hervé Villechaize who was awesome on the television show, “Fantasy Island” back in the 80’s. You’re not supposed to say dwarf anymore, although “ultra-cool” is probably still okay. Anyway, this star is also in the constellation “Aquarius” which gets a lot of favorable mention in the rock opera “Hair”, particularly in the hit song “Age of Aquarius,” made popular by The Fifth Dimension. The two women who performed in that group were Marilyn McCoo and Florence LaRue. We don’t know about the guys, we just like saying Marilyn McCoo and Florence LaRue.
But the important thing for you kids at home to remember is that there’s a difference between astronomy and astrology. The former is something studied by nerds in white lab coats and the latter is something studied by that one aunt who used to send you to the drug store to buy her “dream books.” We personally refuse to have anything to do with zodiac signs and the like because we are Geminis and Geminis don’t believe in astrology.
Getting back to the beer star, the Belgian scientists say it is approximately 40 light years away. This might not sound like much more than a trip to Slippery Rock until you realize that a light year is about 6 trillion miles. (This should not be confused with the time you are left on hold when you try to report a power outage, which is measured in Duquesne Light years.) So, assuming you’re at or near light speed (186,000 miles per second) a trip to Trappist-1 is going to take you in the neighborhood of 40 years, and that’s without pit stops. If you have to squeeze down to one lane at the 220 trillion mile marker it’s going to be even longer. And let’s face it, you grind it out for 30 – 35 light years you’re going to want to hit a Cracker Barrel and stretch your legs. You know, some of those outlying planets probably have pretty good deals on fireworks.
So there you are, hurtling through the cosmos toward good old Trappist-1 when it occurs to you that you’re going to need a planet to land on, since even dwarf stars aren’t ultracool enough to keep from giving you a hotfoot. We got a friend of ours to ask his granddaughter what they’re teaching in school these days about planets and she had these two fascinating observations: “Boys are from Jupiter, they just get stupider.” And, “Girls are from Mars, they all become stars.” This may be true, but it doesn’t help us out of our predicament. So we better get back to the Belgians, assuming they haven’t been “celebrating” too much.
The good news is that there are 7 planets orbiting our little buddy, and 3 of them are thought to be habitable. This means that they probably have water, and they’re not so hot that it all boils away, and not so cold that it freezes solid. The problem is they have such boring names: Trappist 1-c, d and f. Something has to be done.
Before we rename them, we’re just going to have to explore them. For instance, let’s say Trappist 1-c is populated by obnoxious purple clad aliens who think they’re pretty tough but fade in the stretch. We can name them after Baltimore’s corresponding beer, Planet Natty-Boh. And let’s say Trappist 1-f is home to a race of alien blockheads who are too dumb to put anything on their helmets. We can name them after Cleveland’s beer. Does Cleveland have a beer? Okay then, how about Planet Edmund Fitzgerald?
Which leaves us with Trappist-1d which we’ll have to name Planet Iron City. And if, like Earth, it has a moon? I.C. Light..
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