Magna company working on telescope that may shed light on 7 newly-discovered planets

Posted at 9:42 PM, Feb 22, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-22 23:42:50-05

MAGNA, Utah -- On Wednesday, NASA announced the discovery of seven new Earth-sized planets.

Three of them may have the conditions necessary to support life as we know it. But right now, there is no way to know for sure. That’s where Utah comes in.

Orbital ATK in Magna built pieces of the James Webb Space Telescope.

“Webb should have the ability to actually analyze the atmospheres,” said Patrick Wiggins, NASA’s ambassador to Utah.

The telescope is still being assembled by NASA, and its expected launch isn’t until 2018. The new planets are 40 light years away, orbiting a star called TRAPPIST-1. Astronomers used the Spitzer space telescope and ground telescopes to make the discovery and to draw some conclusions.

“For one of the them, our measurement is precise enough to strongly suggest a water-rich composition, which is very exciting because this is one of the planets in the habitable zone,” said Michael Gillon, astronomer at the University of Liege, Belgium

But our current technology can only go so far. Wiggins is hopeful that the Webb telescope will provide more answers. Until then, he says people should temper their expectations.

“I just don’t want people going away from this thinking we have found Earth-like planets with life on them," he said. "We may have. I’ll put a big 'may' on there."