Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Distance to TRAPPIST-1 System

Recently I was reading an article on the TRAPPIST-1 stellar system and did a double take on the listed distance to the system.  If you're unfamiliar, the TRAPPIST-1 stellar system is the system in which it was recently announced there were seven rocky planets with three sitting in the star's habitable zone.  Very big and exciting news!  The distance to the system from our solar system is just a shade under 40 light years.  A very large distance compared to distances we commonly travel on Earth in our day to day lives, but very close astronomically speaking.  I took a snapshot of the article I read that caused the double take.

The distance is correctly stated in light years, but check the distance in miles.  The stated distance of 235 million miles seems to be a large distance, but the distance from the Sun to Earth is already 93 million miles.  Stated another way, this is only 2.5 times farther from the Sun than Earth.  That puts this stellar system on the inner side of our solar system's asteroid belt and I guarantee you this stellar system does not reside INSIDE our own Solar System.  :-)  

So what is the correct distance in miles?  The 235 part of the distance is correct, but it's not million.  It's not billion either.  It's trillion miles.  235 TRILLION miles.  A very simple typo of a 'm' instead of a 't' placed this stellar system inside our own solar system.  Yikes!  Trillion.  Not million.

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