Way to steal NASA's thunder, video games.
The entire internet is still buzzing about the discovery of seven Earth-sized planets in a "nearby" star system — it's only about 40 light-years, or 235 trillion miles, away. In galactic terms, that's pretty much right next door.
Unfortunately for NASA, Elite Dangerous got there first.
The exploration-focused game — which has often been described as "Grand Theft Auto in space" — sets players loose in a recreation of our Milky Way galaxy. From the cockpit of their starships, players are free to mine, trade, do battle and find cool stuff as they please.
For unobserved star systems — which, until recently, included TRAPPIST-1 — the game's "Stellar Forge" engine randomly generates celestial bodies using existing data and what we know about the physical realities of outer space as the basis.
As it happens, there's a star system in Elite Dangerous in roughly the same location as TRAPPIST-1. More than that, said system includes seven terrestrial worlds orbiting a Brown Dwarf, which is only a little bit smaller than the M8 star at the heart of the actual system.
It's not a perfect replica in the game. The Elite Dangerous star system — which is called "Core Sys Sector XU-P A5-0" — includes a number of moons, as well as planets in paired co-orbits. Such determinations haven't yet been made about TRAPPIST-1.
David Braben, the CEO of Elite developer Frontier Development, highlighted the in-game system's similarity to TRAPPIST-1 in a new forum post. He also noted that a forthcoming update will tweak the star system to account for NASA's discoveries and change its name to TRAPPIST-1.
You can read more about how Stellar Forge works in this 2015 interview with Braben at Space.com.
Image: Frontier Developments