New research reveals trappist planets may be habitable

  • New research reveals trappist planets may be habitable

New research reveals trappist planets may be habitable

As for the odds of the planets hosting organic life forms, "we can not say at this stage, as they are vastly different from the only planet we know to harbour life (Earth)", Triaud told AFP.

The presence of puffy, hydrogen-dominated atmospheres would have indicated that these planets are more likely gaseous worlds like Neptune.

The system is relatively close, only 40 light-years away, and astronomers have been probing the planets and their star with an array of telescopes to learn about how TRAPPIST-1 formed and what conditions might be like on the seven planets.

But their densities also suggest that some of them have an incredible amount of water - up to 5 percent of their mass. Earth's mass, for context, is just 0.02 percent water.

You've probably been on the edge of your seat wondering what the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system has been up to.

"When astronomers refer to life, we often mean any sort of organism, including micro-organisms and plants, which are the living beings that have most profoundly changed the chemistry of our atmosphere".

The new study claims that the planets in the system have the potential to host life, although they caution that they are "far from establishing" this for certain.

The findings are based on data from NASA's Spitzer and Kepler space telescopes.

"It's interesting because we have four planets that are at different distances from the star". This new information reinforces the notion that the seven planets of TRAPPIST-1 are similar to the rocky worlds of the Solar system in many ways.

Compared to our Solar System, the Trappist-1 family is very tightly-knit.

TRAPPIST-1 is named for the Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST) in Chile, which discovered two of the seven TRAPPIST planets we know of today - announced in February 2016.

According to four worldwide teams, planets in the star's Goldilocks zone are rocky, like Earth; probably have water; and, based on Hubble observations, are more likely to have habitable atmospheres than we previously thought.

The Hubble team plans to conduct follow-up observations in ultraviolet light to search for trace hydrogen escaping the planets' atmospheres, produced from processes involving water or methane lower in their atmospheres.

It will be the first of a new generation of telescopes with the ability to seek chemical sign-posts of life in exoplanet atmospheres.

When asked whether humans could ever inhabit TRAPPIST 1-e, Dr Triaud said that we are "really farm from the possibility" and that any thought on the matter "remains speculation".

The planets may also be tidally locked, meaning the same face is always pointing towards the star.

Professor Brice-Olivier Demory, co-author at the University of Bern, added, "Densities, while important clues to the planets' compositions, do not say anything about habitability". All seven of the planetary orbits are closer to their host star than Mercury is to our Sun.

It may have a denser iron core, and it does not necessarily have a thick atmosphere, ocean or ice layer. That might sound like it makes for a hellish landscape, but because TRAPPIST-1 is far cooler than the Sun its habitable zone is much closer, and TRAPPIST-1e, f and g are orbiting in that sweet spot.

Meanwhile, F, G and H are the coldest planets and are expected to have water "in the form of ice". Grimm's team reports in Astronomy & Astrophysics that the fourth planet from the star possesses similar density from that of the Earth and gets the same amount of radiation from its star as Earth. Most excitingly, astronomers now say that water appears to be present in significant quantities on all of the planets, in some cases up to five percent of the planet's mass.

The James Webb Space Telescope, which will be much more powerful than Hubble, will be able to probe deeper to find heavier gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, water, and oxygen. Then, mass and radius are used to calculate density.

The TRAPPIST-1 planets are so close together that they interfere with each other gravitationally, so the times when they pass in front of the star shift slightly.