Published: Sat, September 02, 2017
Sci-tech | By Jackie Newman

Earth-Sized Planets Forty Light Years Away Could Be Habitable

Earth-Sized Planets Forty Light Years Away Could Be Habitable

The seven recently discovered exoplanets orbiting the TRAPPIST-1 star 40 light-years away, are the most Earth-sized planets discovered in a single system to date. "Our results suggest that water, and potentially life, could have survived in the TRAPPIST-1 system, despite the relatively intense ultraviolet and X-ray irradiation of the planets". Using data gleaned from the Hubble telescope, researchers have calculated the amount of ultraviolet (UV) radiation the planets receive from their star, a Hubble press release reports.

During the research period, they studied the quantity of inward ultraviolet or UV radiation, received by each of the seven planets of the TRAPPIST-1 system, and conducted a series of calculations for determining how this emission might be dominating the amount of water on each planet.

The search for life on other planets is gaining fresh impetus with new research suggesting planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system could harbor substantial amounts of water. It is rapidly spinning and generates energetic flares of ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

The TRAPPIST-1 system - named after the TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope in Chile - was discovered a year ago.

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This artist's concept allows us to imagine what it would be like to stand on the surface of TRAPPIST-1f. In February 2017, it was confirmed that TRAPPIST contains total seven rocky composition and earth size planets. Especially hydrogen, which can act as a possible signature of atmospheric water vapor. As the ill-fated passengers of the Hindenburg would tell you if they could, hydrogen gas is very light and it likes to go up. "As in our own atmosphere, where ultraviolet sunlight breaks molecules apart, ultraviolet starlight can break water vapour in the atmospheres of exoplanets into hydrogen and oxygen".

Their findings indicate that the two innermost planets, designated Trappist-1b and Trappist-1c, could have lost vast amounts of water as a result of ultraviolet radiation - as much as 20 Earth-oceans-worth over the last 8 billion years. The observed amount of ultraviolet radiation emitted by TRAPPIST-1 indeed suggests that the planets could have lost big amounts of water over the course of their history.

It shows that "atmospheric escape may play an important role in the evolution of these planets", said Julien de Wit, co-author of the study and a researcher from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

While our results suggest that the outer planets are the best candidates to search for water with the JWST, they also highlight the need for theoretical studies and complementary observations in all wavelength domains to determine the nature of the TRAPPIST-1 planets, and their potential habitability. But it's also possible that the outermost four planets (e, f, g and h - the first three of which are in the star's habitable zone) lost less than three Earth-oceans' worth of water.

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