Janice Dean: An eclipse never gets old (but you’ve gotta protect your eyes)

Janice Dean

February 26, 1979.  I was 8-years-old and remember being both terrified and intrigued about something that was being talked about everywhere. From the schoolyard to the grocery store, on the front covers of newspapers, magazines and leading the coverage on TV.

This wasn’t a storyline out of a science fiction movie or novel, this was real, and happening here on Earth.

Millions of people were going to witness something that maybe happens a couple of times in our lifetime:  A total solar eclipse.

Our teachers were planning lessons about this incredible celestial event. Chalkboard diagrams, planetary mobiles and handmade viewing devices were being created out of shoe boxes. We were all being prepped for the event of the year.

I remember a TV show in Canada on the day of the TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE where the intro was the theme from the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

A meteorologist was talking about the weather and mentioned wind direction and whether or not our view would be obscured by cloud cover. They also had a rooster on set to see if after the eclipse happened would the rooster crow because he was confused that morning had come again?

I can’t remember if the rooster cock-a-doodle-doo’d but I do remember hearing the phrase that scared the you-know- what out of me:

“DON’T LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE SUN DURING A SOLAR ECLIPSE.  ANYTIME. YOU WILL GO BLIND!”

The advertising worked. I was terrified, but my curiosity was eclipsing my fear.

The basic story behind the solar eclipse is simple: The moon as it orbits around the earth passes in front of the sun every now and then.

When that happens, the sun’s light is temporarily blocked and the result is a solar eclipse.  If the sun is completely covered, that is a total eclipse.

Because the moon’s orbit is tilted, this type of event only happens a few times a year, and most times the alignment is not exact, so many eclipses are just partial and only seen in remote areas across the world.

Back in 1979, the central shadow of the moon passed through several U.S. states and a few Canadian provinces including Ontario, which is where I am from. We were going to be part of solar eclipse history!

Thirty-eight years later, the Earth, sun and moon are aligning once again, but this time many more people will be experiencing this total solar eclipse. On August 21st the U.S will experience its first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in 99 years.

My 8-year-old self is still a little nervous. My 47-year-old self is incredibly excited.

I’m going to be travelling to Greenville, South Carolina, to broadcast live for “Fox & Friends” the morning of the eclipse, Monday, August 21st. Greenville is one of the lucky cities along the path of totality.

Everyone across the U.S. will at least see a partial eclipse, but those living along the “red line” will see a TOTAL ECLIPSE that could last up to 2 minutes and 40 seconds in some places.

The one thing that could hinder this experience is cloud cover, so be prepared for the possible disappointment from your local meteorologist.

The path of totality will be 60-70 miles wide and some of the biggest cities in the path include Nashville, Tennessee; Columbia and Charleston, South Carolina; Salem, Oregon; Casper, Wyoming; and Kansas City, Missouri.

The eclipse will last the longest in Carbondale, Illinois.

So, back to the safety of watching the solar eclipse – and the “YOU COULD GO BLIND” warning I have seared in my memory from when I was eight.

Ophthalmologists are saying this is a big deal. In this event where hundreds of millions of people are going to be exposed, children are at the highest risk.

Staring at the sun on a regular basis is an uncomfortable thing to do—but during an eclipse where the sun is almost covered,  we’re more apt to try to look at the sun because it’s not as bright, and our protective reflexes like blinking and pupil contraction are less likely to kick in.

Our eyes are like powerful magnifying glasses and if you stare at the sun, you focus all the energy of that light onto your retina – the light-sensitive tissue in the back of your eye. You won’t feel it because the retina doesn’t have pain fibers, but the damage can happen in just a few seconds. There have been reports of people becoming legally blind in at least one eye after watching eclipses.

Regular sunglasses will not help. There are special purpose solar filters like mylar that could decrease the amount of light into the eye, but you have to look for glasses that meet the ISO 12312-2 international standards.

Be very careful ordering these online as Amazon has issued recalls to customers that may have not come from recommended manufacturers.

An alternative for safe viewing is through a pinhole projector (I remember making one of these in school). With this method, sunlight streams through the small hole onto a makeshift screen such as a piece of paper on the ground.

And because I not only love doing weather on TV, but also educating kids about weather and science with help from my “Freddy the Frogcaster” children’s books, I’ve included some Freddy safety tips here for the eclipse (please see the picture below).

So, prepare yourselves, earthlings for a TOTALLY awesome Great American Solar Eclipse Monday August 21st.

I hope you’ll watch our coverage on “Fox & Friends” live from Greenville, South Carolina.

I may even have a rooster with me to see if he crows after the event happens.

Oh, and if the clouds roll in during the afternoon, and there’s a possibility they could “eclipse” the view, try not to get mad at your TV meteorologist (or the local frogcaster).

It’s not our fault. And there’s always the next total solar eclipse.  Mark it on your calendar: April 8, 2024.

Janice Dean is senior meteorologist for Fox News Channel. She is author of two children’s books about weather. Her latest is “Freddy the Frogcaster and the Flash Flood” (Regnery, August 21, 2017). Click here for more information on Janice Dean.

What to do if your solar eclipse glasses won’t arrive in time

If you won’t have eclipse glasses in time for the total solar eclipse that will cross the United States on Aug. 21, here are your options for getting them in a hurry or viewing the eclipse another way.

Your local chain

The fastest way to grab eclipse glasses may involve visiting a local store, according to Stephen Ramsden, head of an outreach program called the Charlie Bates Solar Astronomy Project. Many online orders have been delayed, and a last-minute recall by Amazon has created a hurdle for some hopeful eclipse viewers. [How to Tell If Your Eclipse Glasses Are Unsafe (and What to Do About It)]

Several retail chains are selling eclipse glasses and handheld viewers that meet the ISO requirements for safety. According to the American Astronomical Society’s (AAS) list of approved vendors, some locations of the following stores carry the glasses:

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7-Eleven
Best Buy
Bi-Mart
Casey’s General Store
Circle K
HobbyTown
Kirkland’s
Kroger
London Drugs
Love’s Travel Stops
Lowe’s
Maverik
McDonald’s (Oregon only)
Pilot/Flying J
Toys R Us
Walmart

According to Ramsden, that may be your only option to purchase glasses at this stage.

“If you waited this long for glasses, your only hope, possibly, is your local retail establishment,” he told Space.com.

Local events

In the days leading up to the Great American Solar Eclipse, a number of organizations will open their doors for eclipse-related events. Most will provide eclipse glasses to safely view the event. Contact your local library, museum or observatory to see what it is planning and whether it will provide eclipse glasses. In addition to finding a way to protect your eyes, you might enjoy the organization’s program.

A different direction

If you can’t find eclipse glasses and you’ve given up on finding them, consider an eclipse-viewing alternative. One of the most widely known options is to build a pinhole projector, which requires only a small shoe-box-size box and a few household items. [Build Your Own Solar Eclipse Viewer]

 

According to NASA, however, any object with tiny holes can provide a safe way to watch the eclipse, including a colander or a piece of card stock with a hole. Hold the object over the ground or a piece of paper, and look at the projected shadow to create your own simple eclipse viewer. Note that you should look at the shadow of the object on the ground or paper; do not look at the sun through the object.

You can also turn a pair of binoculars into a projector to watch the eclipse safely. That doesn’t mean directly looking through the binoculars at the sun, which is definitely unsafe. Instead, combine the binoculars with a tripod (or a stack of books), some duct tape and two pieces of white cardboard to create your own safe solar eclipse viewer. See our video on how to do this here .

 

Enjoy the eclipse — safely

Hundreds of millions of people will be in range to observe the Aug. 21 event as either a total or partial eclipse, and if they don’t use safe viewing methods, the results can be literally blinding. Light from the sun can burn your eyeballs, resulting in permanent damage. So if you want to look directly at the sun, it’s critical to use glasses with proper ISO certification, like those from vendors on the AAS list , Ramsden said.

But if you can’t find eclipse glasses, and you don’t want to make your own viewing equipment, you still won’t be out of luck, Ramsden said.

“It’s not a time to panic,” he said. Based on his experience, Ramsden added, if you visit a city with an eclipse viewing party, people will be more than willing to share.

“There will be hundreds of glasses floating around,” he said. “Just go to the event, and share them with someone else.”

Follow Nola Taylor Redd at @NolaTRedd , Facebook , or Google+ . Follow us at @Spacedotcom , Facebook or Google+ . Originally published on Space.com .

Top five worst superstitions about solar eclipses

On August 21, skywatchers in the U.S. will gather to observe a total solar eclipse, a memorable event in which the Moon will gradually cover 100 percent of the Sun.

Thanks to modern science, the reason for an eclipse and its pathway are common knowledge and towns in the eclipse’s path, from South Carolina to Oregon, are preparing for viewing events.

However, this is a far cry from prior superstitions and myths that kept people indoors and cowering in fear as the Sun disappeared.

2017 TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE WILL BE ‘ONE OF THE EVENTS OF THE CENTURY’ 

There are many reasons that cultures responded to an eclipse with fright rather than with celebration. Chief among them was the sentiment that somehow, there was a conflict between the celestial bodies.

Livescience writes that during a 16th-century eclipse, ancient Aztecs reacted to an eclipse in what was described as “tumult and disorder.” The detailed account, taken by the missionary Fray Bernardino de Sahagún, goes on to describe shouting and sacrifices of lighter-skinned people alongside general panic that the Sun might disappear forever, and demons of darkness would come down and eat people.

Time has shown that this panic was unfounded, but myths continue be part of the folklore.

From dangers to pregnant women to colorful flowers, these are the 5 of the top solar eclipse superstitions.

Origins.

It might be hard to picture panic ensuing during an eclipse in modern day North America, but according to Livescience, ancient peoples sought to explain an eclipse the best way they could.

Some cultures believed gods and demons were involved, while others cited dragons. The Shan people, (located in present-day Vietnam) thought it was an evil spirit that took the form of a toad.

Hide your kids! Hide your wife!

It is unclear where this wive’s tale (pardon the pun) originates, but it persists. In the cultures where this myth is believed, women and small children are advised to stay indoors during an eclipse.

According to Space.com, some cultures also believed that children born during an eclipse would turn into mice.

REVEALED: WHAT THE SUN’S OUTER ATMOSPHERE WILL LOOK LIKE DURING THE TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE

Don’t eat that!

In India, some cultures opt to fast during an eclipse. This is done because it is believed that any food cooked during an eclipse is impure, or worse, poisonous.

Plant something.

Italians have long believed that if flowers are planted during an eclipse, they will be more colorful when it’s time to bloom.

Settle your differences.

The Batammaliba of Togo and Benin believe an eclipse happens because the Sun and Moon are fighting one another. In order to get the Sun back, people on Earth are advised to settle their differences and make peace.

According to NASA, the last total solar eclipse taking place over contiguous United States occurred on Feb. 26, 1979.

There will be an annular solar eclipse that will take place on October 14, 2023 and there will be another total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024.

Dazzling auroras dance on the southern horizon in astronaut’s photo

The southern lights appear to dance on the horizon off the southern coast of Australia in a stunning new photo taken by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station.

The eye-catching image was taken on June 19, according to NASA’s Earth Observatory, and the shot captures a gorgeous cosmic interplay: a curved sliver of blue dawn light and the more diffuse green glow of the southern lights (also called the aurora australis), sliced through by one of the space station’s solar-panel-covered wings.

As is the case for its northerly counterpart, the aurora borealis (or northern lights), the otherworldly glow of the aurora australis is caused by collisions of particles high up in the atmosphere. Though most of these particles, which have been blasted off from the sun, are deflected by Earth’s magnetic field, some enter the South Pole. Once there, the particles smash into atmospheric gas, injecting the latter with a burst of extra energy. Then, the gas releases this extra energy in the form of light. [Aurora Photos: See Breathtaking Views of the Northern Lights]

But not all auroras glow green. Two factors determine their hue: the type of atmospheric gas that is smashed into, and the altitude at which these collisions occur. The aurora captured here is a result of oxygen gas releasing light 60 to 250 miles (100 to 400 kilometers) up, according to NASA. Nitrogen struck at higher altitudes makes the sky blaze red, while lower down, this results in a breathtaking blue-purple haze, as was the case in New Zealand skies in 2015, reported Yahoo News.

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But although they represent a spectacular scientific phenomenon, these sky spectacles have also inspired mystical explanations. For example, the Maori people of New Zealand’s North Island believe the red aurora australis is fire lit by spirits — a message that they’re returning home, ABC science reported in 2013.

Original article on Live Science.

Moon has a close encounter with Saturn on Thursday night

Skywatchers have a rare chance to easily locate Saturn as it passes close by the moon Thursday night (July 6), its famous rings wide open to our line of sight.

Next to the moon, the object that most people want to see in a telescope is the ringed planet Saturn, I’ve found — yet even folks who own a telescope often express in somewhat exasperated tones that they have yet to see it. Their chief problem is making a positive identification. Certainly, there is no such problem in finding the moon and some of the other bright naked-eye planets.

Case in point: Right now Jupiter can be immediately identified high in the west-southwest sky soon after sunset; it’s by far, the brightest star-like object in our current evening sky. There is no mistaking Venus’ great brilliance , now glowing low in the east just before sunrise. And when Mars is close to Earth and bright (as will be the case at this time next year), skywatchers can immediately recognize it by its distinctive fiery orange color.[ The Brightest Planets in July’s Night Sky: How to See them (and When) ]

Yet to the naked eye there really isn’t anything distinctive about Saturn.

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The ringed planet appears as a bright “star” shining with a steady, sedate yellow-white glow, but it isn’t as eye-catching as Venus or Jupiter. Indeed, I suspect that many neophytes to astronomy likely have passed over it visually without knowing exactly what it is. Some nearby benchmark would certainly help to guide one to it.

Well…Thursday is “benchmark night!”

About 1 hour after sunset, look toward the south-southeast sky. Roughly one-quarter up from the horizon to the point overhead will be a nearly full moon , 96 percent illuminated by the sun. (The moon will officially turn full during the overnight hours late next Saturday night, July 8.)

Hovering less than 3 degrees below the moon you’ll see a bright, yellowish-white “star” shining with a steady glow. And that will be Saturn.

How easy is that?

With Saturn properly identified, if you have a telescope and have never seen the “lord of the rings,” you can finally catch a glimpse. Any telescope magnifying more than 30-power will show the rings. They consist of billions of particles ranging in size from sand grains to flying mountains, which are made of — or covered by — water ice. This would account for their very high reflectivity. The reason that “rings” is plural and not singular is that gaps of brightness differences define distinct sets of rings.

Right now, the north side of the rings is tilted 26.7-degrees toward Earth. They haven’t been this wide open since June of 2003, so now is a great time to check them out.

And if clouds hide your view of Saturn and the moon, don’t fret. You’ll have another chance to see moon near to Saturn (though not as close as on Thursday) on Wednesday evening (Aug. 2).

Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York’s Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for Natural History magazine, the Farmers’ Almanac and other publications, and he is also an on-camera meteorologist for Fios1 News in Rye Brook, New York. Follow us @Spacedotcom , Facebook and Google+ . Original article on Space.com .

SpaceX’s Mars colony plan: How Elon Musk plans to build a million-person Martian city

Artist's illustration of a SpaceX colony ship arriving at Mars. The company aims to help establish a million-person city on the Red Planet.

Artist’s illustration of a SpaceX colony ship arriving at Mars. The company aims to help establish a million-person city on the Red Planet.  (SpaceX)

Elon Musk has put his Mars-colonization vision to paper, and you can read it for free.

SpaceX’s billionaire founder and CEO just published the plan, which he unveiled at a conference in Mexico in September 2016, in the journal New Space. Musk’s commentary, titled “Making Humanity a Multi-Planetary Species,” is available for free on New Space’s website through July 5.

“In my view, publishing this paper provides not only an opportunity for the spacefaring community to read the SpaceX vision in print with all the charts in context, but also serves as a valuable archival reference for future studies and planning,” New Space editor-in-chief (and former NASA “Mars czar”) Scott Hubbard wrote in a statement. [ SpaceX’s Interplanetary Transport for Mars in Images ]

Musk’s Mars vision centers on a reusable rocket-and-spaceship combo that he’s dubbed the Interplanetary Transport System (ITS). Both the booster and the spaceship will be powered by SpaceX’s Raptor engine, still in development, which Musk said will be about three times stronger than the Merlin engines that power the company’s Falcon 9 rocket.

The booster, with its 42 Raptors, will be the most powerful rocket in history, by far. It will be capable of launching 300 metric tons (330 tons) to low Earth orbit (LEO), or 550 metric tons (600 tons) in an expendable variant, Musk said. For comparison, NASA’s famous Saturn V moon rocket, the current record holder, could loft “just” 135 metric tons (150 tons).

ITS rockets will launch the spaceships to Earth orbit, then come back down for a pinpoint landing about 20 minutes later. And “pinpoint” is not hyperbole: “With the addition of maneuvering thrusters, we think we can actually put the booster right back on the launch stand,” Musk wrote in his New Space paper, citing SpaceX’s increasingly precise Falcon 9 first-stage landings .

The ITS boosters will launch many spaceships and fuel tankers (which will top up the spaceships’ tanks) to orbit over the course of their operational lives; the rockets will be designed to fly about 1,000 times each, Musk wrote. The spaceships, meanwhile, will hang out in orbit, and then depart en masse when Earth and Mars align favorably. This happens once every 26 months.

Eventually, Musk wrote, he envisions 1,000 or more ITS spaceships, each carrying 100 or more people, leaving Earth orbit during each of these Mars windows. The architecture could conceivably get 1 million people to Mars within the next 50 to 100 years, he has said.

The ships would also fly back from Mars, using their nine Raptor engines and methane-based propellant that was manufactured on the Red Planet. Each ITS ship would probably be able to make 12 to 15 deep-space journeys during its operational life, Musk wrote, and each fuel tanker could likely fly to Earth orbit 100 or so times.

The ITS’ reusability is key to making Mars colonization affordable . This reusability — combined with other measures, such as fueling the spaceships in Earth orbit and making propellant on Mars — could bring the price of a Red Planet trip down to $200,000 or so per person, from an estimated $10 billion using conventional spaceflight systems, Musk said.

ITS spaceships could begin flying to Mars about 10 years from now, if everything goes well, Musk added. But he acknowledged that success is far from guaranteed.

“There is a huge amount of risk. It is going to cost a lot,” Musk wrote. “There is a good chance we will not succeed, but we are going to do our best and try to make as much progress as possible.”

And SpaceX has a history of overcoming long odds. When Musk founded the company in 2002, he wrote, “I thought we had maybe a 10 percent chance of doing anything — of even getting a rocket to orbit, let alone getting beyond that and taking Mars seriously.”

You can download a free copy of Musk’s Mars paper here: http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/full/10.1089/space.2017.29009.emu

Follow Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall and Google+ . Follow us@Spacedotcom , Facebook or Google+ . Originally published on Space.com.

Who first saw the Ring Nebula? 238-year-old mystery is solved

A composite image of the Ring Nebula captured using data from the Hubble Space Telescope Wide Field Camera 3 and the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) in Arizona.

A composite image of the Ring Nebula captured using data from the Hubble Space Telescope Wide Field Camera 3 and the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) in Arizona.  (C. Robert O’Dell (Vanderbilt University)/David Thompson (LBTO)/NASA/ESA)

It turns out the iconic Ring Nebula was actually discovered by 18th century comet-hunter Charles Messier, a new study shows.

Until now, history has credited the discovery of this well-known nebula, also known as Messier 57 or NGC 6720, to 18th-century French astronomer Antoine Darquier. However, astronomers Donald Olson, a physics professor at Texas State University, and Giovanni Maria Caglieris of Italy re-evaluated the observation notes taken by Messier and Darquier, revealing a small discrepancy 238 years later.

The researchers found that Messier’s observation notes from Jan. 31, 1779, said that he spotted a “small patch of light” near the path of Bode’s comet, according to a statement from Texas State. [50 Amazing Deep-Space Nebulas (Photos)]

“In comparing the comet to β Lyrae on this morning, I observed in the telescope a small patch of light … this patch of light was round and was located between γ & β Lyrae,” Messier wrote in his notes, according to the statement. This patch of light was the same nebula Darquier later observed in February 1779.

Although Messier was the first to detect the Ring Nebula, history has credited Darquier as the founder, since Messier’s Catalogue states, “Darquier in Toulouse discovered this nebula, while observing the same comet,” in the description of M57, according to the statement. This description is what caused the discrepancy over who first discovered the Ring Nebula, researchers said.

“The confusion stems from language creep and lack of context,” Texas State representatives said in the statement. “Messier’s statement appears to be an endorsement of Darquier being the first person to spot the Ring Nebula. In the 18th century, however, ‘discover’ more commonly meant to simply discern something, a use that is almost obsolete today.”

“Alternatively, Messier could have used ‘discover’ to qualify Darquier’s observations as a later, independent discovery,” they added.

Darquier’s observation notes, along with a letter sent to Messier in September 1779, confirm that he was not the first to observe and record M57, as he wrote to Messier saying “he did not begin to observe the sky near the path of Bode’s comet until the second week of February,” according to the statement. Darquier began observing the region between stars β & γ Lyrae only after reading about Messier’s comet observations, the statement said.

The Ring Nebula is among Messier’s list of 110 deep-sky objects, which at the time was used to provide a list of objects for 18th century comet hunters to avoid. This nebula is located just over 2,000 light-years from Earth in the Lyra constellation and measures 1 light-year (about 6 trillion miles, or 10 trillion kilometers) across.

The researchers were able to determine who exactly discovered the iconic Ring Nebula using historical documents that only recently became widely available online. Their findings were published in the June 2017 issue of Sky & Telescope magazine.

Follow Samantha Mathewson @Sam_Ashley13 . Follow us @Spacedotcom , Facebook and Google+ . Original article on Space.com .

Buzz Aldrin hosts virtual reality experience on how to get to Mars

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin suits up for a countdown demonstration test prior to the launch of Apollo 11 on July 5, 1969.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin suits up for a countdown demonstration test prior to the launch of Apollo 11 on July 5, 1969.  (NASA)

Buzz Aldrin, the second man to set foot on the moon, is looking to keep humanity going and get to Mars.

The 87-year old astronaut is hosting a virtual reality experience to discuss his plan on how to get astronauts to Mars. The experience, named Cycling Pathways to Mars, debuted at the tech conference South by Southwest earlier this week.

In the experience, Aldrin is placed on a lunar landscape, then goes on to show how humanity could get to Mars. The Apollo 11 astronaut thinks there could be two ships going back and forth between Earth and Mars on six months schedules in order to do so.

In addition to the experience, Aldrin participated in a panel at the conference on how to get to Mars, taking questions from the media to further expand his thoughts.

For years, Aldrin has been a vocal supporter of having a manned mission to Mars.

In June 2013, he wrote an op-ed for The New York Times, detailing his thoughts on a potential mission. In August 2015 — Aldrin, along with the Florida Institute of Technology — gave a “master plan” to NASA on how to colonize Mars prior to 2040.

Buzz Aldrin hosts virtual reality experience on how to get to Mars

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin suits up for a countdown demonstration test prior to the launch of Apollo 11 on July 5, 1969.

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin suits up for a countdown demonstration test prior to the launch of Apollo 11 on July 5, 1969.  (NASA)

Buzz Aldrin, the second man to set foot on the moon, is looking to keep humanity going and get to Mars.

The 87-year old astronaut is hosting a virtual reality experience to discuss his plan on how to get astronauts to Mars. The experience, named Cycling Pathways to Mars, debuted at the tech conference South by Southwest earlier this week.

In the experience, Aldrin is placed on a lunar landscape, then goes on to show how humanity could get to Mars. The Apollo 11 astronaut thinks there could be two ships going back and forth between Earth and Mars on six months schedules in order to do so.

In addition to the experience, Aldrin participated in a panel at the conference on how to get to Mars, taking questions from the media to further expand his thoughts.

For years, Aldrin has been a vocal supporter of having a manned mission to Mars.

In June 2013, he wrote an op-ed for The New York Times, detailing his thoughts on a potential mission. In August 2015 — Aldrin, along with the Florida Institute of Technology — gave a “master plan” to NASA on how to colonize Mars prior to 2040.

7 new Earth-like exoplanets discovered, NASA announces

NOW PLAYINGAstronomers discover seven Earth-sized planets

Talk about lucky number seven. Astronomers have discovered not one, not two, but seven Earth-sized planets orbiting a star called TRAPPIST-1.

What’s more, three of them are in the habitable zone— the happy place where liquid water can exist on the surface of rocky planets, as it’s not too hot or cold. (Although liquid water could potentially exist on any of the seven, NASA said, it likes the odds on those three best.) The space agency calls the discovery of the fascinating solar system record-breaking.

“The discovery gives us a hint that finding a second Earth is not just a matter of if, but when,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, said at a news conference announcing the discovery.

Zurbuchen called it a “major step forward” towards the goal of answering the very big question: Is there life on other worlds?

The discovery “is very promising for the search for life beyond our solar system,” Michael Gillon, astronomer at the University of Liege in Belgium, added during the press conference.

This is the first time astronomers have found so many Earth-sized planets circling the same sun.

Since the seven planets orbit the star– which is roughly 40 light years away– fairly close to each other, the view from one planet would reveal other planets to look as big, if not bigger, than the way we see the moon from Earth.

“If you were on the surface of one of these planets, you would have a wonderful view [of] the other planets,” Gillon said, adding that they would be much more than just “dots of light” in the sky, as we see other planets, like Venus, from our home planet.

NASA IDENTIFIES 1,284 NEW EXOPLANETS, MOST EVER ANNOUNCED AT ONCE

The three planets in the habitable zone, also known as the Goldilocks Zone, are called TRAPPIST-1e, f, and g. Exoplanet “e” is about the same size as Earth and even gets around the same amount of star light as we do.

Scientists already knew of thousands of planets beyond our own solar system.

All told, the tally of confirmed exoplanets stood at 3,449 on Wednesday. But only a small number of discovered exoplanets meet the criteria for being possible Earths– Earth-sized planets that are not too big, and in the habitable zone of a star.

NEW NEIGHBOR: SCIENTISTS DISCOVER CLOSEST HABITABLE EXOPLANET

While this discovery was made using the Spitzer Space Telescope, one of the most important instruments in the search for other planets is the Kepler Space Telescope, which is credited with 2,331 confirmed exoplanet discoveries. It uses a technique called the transit method, watching for a star to dim when a planet passes in front of the distant sun. About 74 percent of known exoplanets have been discovered using that method, according to NASA.

Exoplanet discoveries just keep coming.

Earlier this month, astronomers announced that they had evidence of perhaps as many as 114 new exoplanets; the data they used to find those came from Hawaii’s Keck Observatory, which made observations of over 1,600 stars for over two decades. One of those newly-discovered planets that has garnered attention is a hot, rocky “super Earth” called Gliese 411b.

Scientists have even discovered a planet orbiting the closest star to Earth, aside from the sun. Called Proxima b, that planet is somewhat larger than our own planet and lies about four light years away— close by cosmic standards but still incredibly far away from a human perspective. (One light year— the distance light can travel in one Earth year— equals almost 6 trillion miles.) The important Proxima b discovery was announced last August.

Follow Rob Verger on Twitter: @robverger