TRAPPIST 1 planets found to be rich with water, boosting chances for life
07 February, 2018, 02:01
This lies in the system's "habitable zone", which the study in Astronomy and Astrophysics refers to as, "the circumstellar region where liquid water could exist on a planetary surface". "Their primordial atmospheres, largely composed of hydrogen, could have boiled away as they got closer to the star, and then the planets formed secondary atmospheres". For each planet, researchers had to come up with a model based on the newly measured masses, the orbital periods and a variety of other factors - making it an extremely hard, "35-dimensional problem", Grimm said. A year on, we are reporting our results.
This diagram compares the sizes, masses and estimated temperatures of the TRAPPIST-1 planets with Solar System planets. In addition, up to five percent of their mass is said to be in water - which is a very significant amount, given that just 0.02 percent of the Earth's mass is tied up in its oceans.
When we finally find life somewhere out there beyond Earth, it'll be at the end of a long search. Scientists are uncertain whether it has a large atmosphere, an ocean or an ice layer - all three of these would give the planet an "envelope" of volatile substances, which would make sense for a planet of its density.
The system's seven planets orbit an ultra-cool dwarf star, called TRAPPIST-1, about 40 light-years away in the Aquarius constellation.
The form that water takes on TRAPPIST-1 planets would depend on the amount of heat they receive from their star, which is a mere 9 percent as heavy as our Sun. But, more study needs to be done on that planet.
Based on the masses of the planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system, and their relatively short distance from one another, it's thought that panspermia might be as much as 10,000 times more likely to take place there than in our solar system. Then they tried to improve the measurements of the radii and masses of the near-Earth sized planets that revolve around the star.
Co-author Professor Brice-Olivier Demory, from the University of Bern in Germany, said: "Our study is an important step forward as we continue to explore whether these planets could support life". Though much remains unknown about the planets' surfaces and atmospheres, the new measurements have not ruled out the possibility that they may harbour even rudimentary life, the scientists reported.
So, while we don't yet have a complete picture of these planets, one is slowly coming into view, and the data put a bunch of constraints on how we interpret any further information we're going to obtain. This identification will be carried out by new observations.
By ruling out the presence of a large abundance of hydrogen in the planets' atmospheres, Hubble is helping to pave the way for the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope. "Eliminating one possible scenario for the makeup of these atmospheres allows the Webb telescope astronomers to plan their observation programs to look for other possible scenarios for the composition of these atmospheres".
"The system is dynamically stable now, but the planets could not have formed in this tight pack", said co-author Dr. Nikole Lewis, from the Space Telescope Science Institute.
The new findings come partially from NASA's Kepler and Spitzer telescopes that have the power to see into the deep and dark corners of space.
The planets may also be tidally locked, meaning the same face is always pointing towards the star.
These latest findings complement the analysis of ultraviolet observations made with Hubble in 2017 (heic1713 ) and help us understand more about whether life might be possible in the TRAPPIST-1 system.
What might these planets be like? Imagine an ideal planet and it would probably look like that. In our own solar system, the Moon and Mars have almost the same density, yet their surfaces appear entirely different.
TRAPPIST 1-b and 1c are the two innermost planets and are likely to have rocky cores and be surrounded by atmospheres much thicker than Earth's. TRAPPIST-1c also likely has a rocky interior, but with a thinner atmosphere than planet b.
TRAPPIST-1d, meanwhile, is the lightest of the planets at about 30% the mass of Earth.
Scientists were surprised that TRAPPIST-1e is the only planet in the system slightly denser than Earth, suggesting it may have a denser iron core than our home planet. TRAPPIST-1e is the rockiest planet of them all, but is still believed to have the potential to host some liquid water. It's the most similar to Earth, in size, density and the amount of radiation it receives from its star.
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