Scientists Reveal Updated Climate Models for the Planets around TRAPPIST-1

Scientists Reveal Updated Climate Models for the Planets around TRAPPIST-1

Researchers propose that TRAPPIST-1e resembles Earth the most and it has an Oxygen-rich atmosphere to go with it.

TRAPPIST-1 is a small, cool dwarf star located 39 light years or 235 trillion miles from our Sun. It is orbited by seven terrestrial (Earth-like) planets. These planets are temperate, which means the conditions there allow water to exist in a form suitable for humans. A research published in the ‘Astrophysical Journal’ shows detailed models of the atmosphere of these planets. Out of all the planetary models, TRAPPIST-1e seems to resemble Earth the most.

It seems to have an ocean world with a likely habitable atmosphere. It may be possible for humans to live on the planet if they are able to make the 39-light year journey to the star system. Named after Trappist (a Belgian Beer), TRAPPIST-1 was discovered in 1999 by the Two Micron All-Sky Survey. However, three of the planets surrounding the star (exoplanets) were not discovered till mid-2015. The remaining four planets were discovered in 2017 by NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. Andrew P. Lincowski, a doctoral student at the University of Washington, talked about this star system and said,

“This is a whole sequence of planets that can give us insight into the evolution of planets, in particular around a star that’s very different from the Sun, with different light coming off of it. It’s just a gold mine. We are modeling unfamiliar atmospheres, not just assuming that the things we see in the solar system will look the same way around another star. We conducted this research to show what these different types of atmospheres could look like.”

TRAPPIST-1 is significantly different from our Sun which allows scientists to study the behavior of planets orbiting a foreign star. As it turns out, while scientists may be able to identify the ‘habitable’ planet, they simply don’t have the resources to travel to it for tests. Even the fastest spacecraft (New Horizons) would take more than 800,000 years to reach TRAPPIST-1e. All of the planets orbiting the star are roughly the same size as Earth. Three of them may be present in the ‘habitable zone’, where the conditions are just right for life to exist.

Read alsoWhat are Exoplanets and what you should know about them?

The remaining ones are either too close to the star or too far from it. The planets’ models are designed to allow scientists to check for wavelengths and traces of atmospheric gases. Simply put, scientists search for anomalies in the data to determine the composition of the said planets. The research so far indicates that the planets might resemble Venus: all oceans boiled from the star’s radiation, thus releasing hydrogen into space. The leftover is an atmosphere composed of high oxygen concentrations. This is a phenomenon which has never been witnessed before. Lincowski explained that by saying,

“This may be possible if these planets had more water initially than Earth, Venus or Mars. If planet TRAPPIST-1 e did not lose all of its water during this phase, today it could be a water world, completely covered by a global ocean. In this case, it could have a climate similar to Earth.”

One of the co-authors of the journal, Jacob Lustig-Yaeger, explained that the discovery of TRAPPIST-1 is a massive achievement in itself. He said that before we knew of this planetary system, estimates for the detectability of atmospheres for Earth-sized planets were looking much more difficult. Our work informs the scientific community of what we might expect to see for the TRAPPIST-1 planets with the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope. Victoria Meadows, the second co-author of the study, strengthened the idea in the following words:

“The processes that shape the evolution of a terrestrial planet are critical to whether or not it can be habitable, as well as our ability to interpret possible signs of life. This paper suggests that we may soon be able to search for potentially detectable signs of these processes on alien worlds.”

Currently, the Hubble Space Telescope is being used to analyze light from the TRAPPIST-1’s system. Researchers believe this research could be invaluable for the future discoveries from space telescopes like the James Webb Space Telescope. Furthermore, such telescopes can validate the existing research and hopefully, unearth more critical information about these planets. For now, TRAPPIST-1e (Dubbed the Humanity’s Holy Grail) seems like a near perfect candidate to support human life, provided the immense distance can be traversed somehow.

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