Space

Outermost planet in TRAPPIST-1 star system has enough water to support alien life

7 exoplanet

Scientists at the US space agency NASA recently discovered the neighbouring star systems with seven planets that might host life — TRAPPIST-1. Since then scientists and astronomers have observed the star system thoroughly and the latest data beamed back by the Hubble Space Telescope reveals that the outer Earth-sized planet might boast water necessary to support life. In addition, three planets in the TRAPPIST-1 star system are in Goldilocks zone and have an excellent chance to harbour alien life.

The remarkable discovery was made on February 22, 2017, which lit a ray of hope in every scientist about the possibility of life on other planets other than our very own planet Earth. These planets are located in the Aquarius  Constellation around a small sized and a faint star.  All the planets are nearly equal in size, and the size is approximately equivalent to that of the earth.

For the study, researchers observed the amount of ultraviolet radiation entering the planet’s atmosphere. “Ultraviolet radiation is an important factor in the atmospheric evolution of planets,” explained lead researcher Vincent Bourrier from Geneva Observatory. “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,” Bourrier said.

Scientists further explained that ultraviolet rays break water molecule into hydrogen and oxygen. Since hydrogen is lighter than Oxygen, it can escape the planet’s atmosphere which can later be detected by the Hubble Space Telescope.

The study appeared in the Astronomical Journal shows that each planet has lost more than three Earth-oceans of water. Since outermost planet is farthest from the Sun, it receives less ultraviolet rays which further signifies that it has lost lesser amount of water when compared to other planets in the star system.

About the Star: TRAPPIST-1

The planets are orbiting a dwarf star named as Trappist-1. The star is only marginally larger than the Jupiter. The star is very small and cold, and hence the seven orbiting planets are temperate. The star shines very feebly, that is about 2000 times dim; when compared to Sun.

Illustrations so Far:

It is for the first time that so many planets resembling the size of the earth are found together that too around the same star. Since the planets are temperate than there are the chances of availability of water on them. The discovery plays a very important role in determining the possibility of life outside the Earth and our Solar System.

The discovery resembles the news of locating three planets around the same dwarf star that was announced in May 2016; now the difference is just the number has increased to 7.

The size of the planets differs from Earth in the aspect of 10% larger to 25% smaller. According to research, the three outermost planets preferably called as Trappist-1e, 1f and 1g are considered most habitable planets out of the seven that were discovered. However, Trappist-1f gaining the top-notch position even amongst the three.  The temperature of this planet is a slight difference on the colder side in comparison to Earth but with ample amount of Greenhouse gases and desired atmosphere.

The planets are only 40 light-years away from the Earth. It is the first ever rocky system in orbit alike our solar system is discovered. However,  the news has increased the anxiety in many researchers. Because,  in any way, if the life-sustaining system can be successfully determined around Trappist – 1 it will prove to be an award-winning answer to age-old efforts.

Astronomers are analysing the data sent by James Webb Telescope to find the presence of alien life on TRAPPIST-1. “If these planets have atmospheres, the James Webb Space Telescope will be the key to unlocking their secrets,” said Doug Hudgins, Exoplanet Program Scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “In the meantime, NASA’s missions like Spitzer, Hubble, and Kepler are following up on these planets.”

“These are the best Earth-sized planets for the James Webb Space Telescope to characterize, perhaps for its whole lifetime,” said Hannah Wakeford, postdoctoral fellow at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. At Goddard, engineers and scientists are currently testing the Webb telescope which will be able to view these planets in the infrared, beyond the capabilities we currently have. “The Webb telescope will increase the information we have about these planets immensely. With the extended wavelength coverage we will be able to see if their atmospheres have water, methane, carbon monoxide/dioxide and/or oxygen.”
NASA is exploring the solar system and beyond to better understand the universe and our place in it. We’re looking to answer age-old questions, like how did our universe begin and evolve; how did galaxies, stars, and planets come to be; and are we alone.

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