Published: Tue, February 06, 2018
Research | By Jody Lindsey

Trappist planets have water, may be 'habitable', researchers say

Trappist planets have water, may be 'habitable', researchers say

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 hotter, closer-in worlds likely have dense, steamy atmospheres, and the more distant ones icy surfaces.

Dr Amaury Triaud, from the University of Birmingham, who was a leading member on the team helping with the study, said: "Of the seven planets, and of all the exoplanets that have been identified so far, Trappist-1e is the most resembling Earth, when we consider the amount of energy a planet receives from its star, and its density, which reflects its internal composition. 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. "So we can learn a little bit more about our own diverse solar system, because we're learning about how the Trappist star has impacted its array of planets". We're uncertain whether it has a large atmosphere, an ocean or an ice layer. The habitable zone is a region at a distance from the star where liquid water, the key to life as we know it, could exist on the planets' surfaces.

"Hubble is doing the preliminary reconnaissance work so that astronomers using Webb know where to start", said Nikole Lewis of the Space Telescope Science Institute, co-leader of the Hubble study. But, more study needs to be done on that planet.

Trappist-1 is named after the Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope (Trappist) in Chile, which discovered the first two planets in the system.

"Our next step is to find out whether the planet has an atmosphere, since our only method to detect the presence of biology beyond the solar system relies on studying the chemistry of an exoplanet's atmosphere". TRAPPIST-1c is similarly rocky but with a thinner atmosphere, and 1d is the lightest, with less than a third of the mass of Earth.

The research seems to suggest that the seven planets that comprise the TRAPPIST-1 system are similar to the rocky worlds on our solar system, in various ways. Closer to the star means that the water is more like to be vapour, and farther means it's more likely to be ice, but some of the middle planets may have liquid water on the surface. The lack of hydrogen in their atmospheres further supports theories about the planets being terrestrial in nature. They may also be tidally locked, meaning that the same side is always facing the star.

Trappist planets have water, may be 'habitable', researchers say
Trappist planets have water, may be 'habitable', researchers say

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".

The following stage, analysts say, in investigating the TRAPPIST-1 framework, scientists say, will be to utilize NASA's coming to James Webb Telescope to examine the airs of these universes. Although the planets are all closer to their star than Mercury is to the Sun, TRAPPIST-1 is such a cool star that its planets are temperate.

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.

The Trappist-1 planets circle a cool red-dwarf star just 9 per cent as massive as the sun. This changes the timing of the transits.

TRAPPIST-1d is the lightest of the planets - about 30 percent the mass of Earth, the study said. The TRAPPIST-1 planets are so close together that their gravitational fields tug on each other as they spin around their star. According to the study, water may be present in different forms in those temperate planets depending upon the amount of heat and radiation they receive from their parent star. Webb will probe deeper into the planetary atmospheres, searching for heavier gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, water, and oxygen. Then, mass and radius are used to calculate density.

But, boffins said they were "far from establishing" whether life exists in the system.

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