TRAPPIST planets may have necessary make-up to support life

New research shows that the planets in the TRAPPIST system are both rocky and likely rich in water.
By Joseph Scalise | Feb 08, 2018
There is a chance that several planets in the distant TRAPPIST solar system have temperatures that can sustain liquid water, which means they could have the potential to host life.

The far-off worlds -- which are the most studied planets outside of our solar system -- greatly resemble Mercury, Venus, Earth, the moon, and Mars.

All of the bodies circle a dim star known as TRAPPIST-1. Astronomers first uncovered the system two years ago and have continued to diligently study it to this day. Not only does the new study show that the planets in the system are rocky, but it also reveals that some of them could contain up to a staggering 5 percent of their mass in water. That figure would be 250 times more than the oceans on Earth.

A group of European researchers made the new discovery and found that the fourth planet in the system -- known as TRAPPIST-1e -- is the most Earth-like of the bodies. That is because it similar in size, density, and receives a similar amount of radiation from its host star. In addition, it is also one of the seven known planets that is somewhat denser than Earth and could have liquid water on its surface.

Even so, while the planets are dense, that does not necessarily mean they are able to host life. It just means they have the potential to do so, which makes them great candidates for future study.

"Densities, while important clues to the planets' compositions, do not say anything about habitability," said study co-author Brice-Olivier Demory, a researcher at the University of Bern, according to USA Today. "However, our study is an important step forward as we continue to explore whether these planets could support life."

Now that researchers have uncovered new information about the TRAPPIST system, they next hope to use the soon-to-be-launched James Webb Space Telescope to see whether or not the planets have an atmosphere. If they do, they could then uncover what those atmospheres are like.

"Our goals are, notably, to improve our measurements of the planets' densities, to detect first traces of atmospheres around them, and to explore the system for a possible eighth planet, or moons around the known planets," said study co-author Michal Gillon, an astronomer at the University of LigeGillon, according to CNN. "We also want to better understand the star itself."

The new studies were published in the journals Nature Astronomy and Astronomy and Astrophysics.


We are dedicated to maintaining a respectful community that actively engages in lively discussions about news stories and blog posts. Please keep the following in mind when writing your comments.