Neighboring Earth Size Exoplanets Trappist 1 May Hold Water

Hubble provides first hints of water on nearby TRAPPIST-1 planets

TRAPPIST-1 may be small and dim, but dwarf stars like it often emit powerful flares of radiation that could make water and life on its planets impossible without thick protective atmospheres.

Earlier this year, NASA announced the discovery of seven Earth-sized planets orbiting an ultra-cool dwarf star, called TRAPPIST-1. The odds of water still being on these planets surfaces are slim to none.

This includes three in the "habitable zone"-the part of the solar system where atmospheric pressure would be at the right level to allow a planet to sustain liquid water".

Using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, an worldwide team of astronomers followed up the initial discovery, with observations to study that amount the amount of ultraviolet radiation received by the individual planets of the system, to ascertain the likelihood of water being present.

Bourrier says the exoplanets in this planetary system are ripe for further study, principally because they are relatively close and therefore brighter than many other potentially habitable exoplanets. 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.

Some of the outer planets, including e, f, and g, could have water on their surfaces.

From the STIS date, researchers were able to measure changes in the strength of the star's ultraviolet radiation.

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In fact, the team suggests that the outer planets lost "less than three Earth-oceans of water".

The researchers measured the ultraviolet (UV) irradiation that the planets receive from TRAPPIST-1, as these UV rays cause water molecules to break apart into their constituent hydrogen and oxygen atoms - making them vulnerable to being driven off into space by the X-ray radiation from the star.

Vincent Bourrier at the University of Geneva in Switzerland and his colleagues tracked the UV radiation that reaches TRAPPIST-1's planets.

According to the Hubble observations, it's possible that the innermost worlds could have dumped more than 20 times the volume of Earth's oceans into space over the course of the last 8 billion years. We caution that these estimates remain limited by the large uncertainty on the planet masses. From all the studies done on this system, astronomers think the seven planets may have originally formed much farther out from their star, in a cold region that contains crystals of water ice.

"Our results indicate that atmospheric escape may play an important role in the evolution of these planets", said co-author Dr. Julien de Wit, of MIT.

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.

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