Artist's concept illustrating TRAPPIST-1 planetary system. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
December 29, 2022
NASA has announced that Webb telescope has observed all the planets of Trappist 1 planetary system, and preliminary results (including atmospheric properties) will be out in the new year.
The Trappist-1 system, located about 40 light-years away in the constellation Aquarius, is home to a small, ultra-cool red dwarf star known as Trappist-1. This star is relatively young, estimated to be only 500 million years old, and is much smaller and cooler than our own sun. Despite its small size, the Trappist-1 system has garnered a lot of attention from astronomers and the general public alike because it is home to a record-breaking seven terrestrial planets that are similar in size to Earth.
The discovery of these seven planets was announced in 2017 by a team of astronomers using data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and the TRAPPIST (Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope) in Chile. The team detected the planets using the "transit method," which involves looking for dips in the star's brightness as a planet passes in front of it.
The seven planets in the Trappist-1 system are all located within the star's habitable zone, which means that they are close enough to the star to potentially have liquid water on their surface. This is an important factor in the search for habitable planets, as the presence of liquid water is considered to be a key requirement for the development of life.
The planets in the Trappist-1 system are also relatively close together, with the distances between them being similar to the distance between the Earth and Mars in our own solar system. This close proximity means that the planets may have influenced each other's evolution and could potentially have shared material and water, increasing the likelihood of life developing on at least one of them.
Follow-up observations of the Trappist-1 system using other telescopes, including the Hubble Space Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope, have provided more detailed information about the planets' sizes, masses, and compositions. These observations have also revealed that at least three of the planets have atmospheres, and that some of the planets may have the potential to host liquid water on their surfaces.
The discovery of the Trappist-1 system has opened up a new window of opportunity in the search for life beyond our own solar system. The small size and low brightness of the Trappist-1 star make it easier to study the planets orbiting it, and the proximity of the system to Earth means that it is within reach of future missions that could potentially study the atmospheres of the planets in more detail.
Scientists are continuing to study the Trappist-1 system in order to learn more about these exoplanets and the potential for the development of life on them. The close proximity of the exoplanets to their star and the presence of liquid water make them some of the most promising candidates for the search for extraterrestrial life.
Overall, the Trappist-1 system is an exciting discovery that has the potential to provide new insights into the prevalence of habitable planets and the potential for life beyond our own solar system. It is a prime target for future studies and missions that will continue to reveal more about this fascinating system and its potential to host life.