Neighboring Earth Size Exoplanets Trappist 1 May Hold Water

Hubble delivers first hints of possible water content of TRAPPIST-1 planets

Finding seven earth-sized planets orbiting the nearby dwarf star TRAPPIST-1 was one thing, now astronomers suggest that three of the planets might still harbour substantial amounts of water, adding further weight to the idea that this trio of exoplanets could indeed be habitable. "Naturally, this also depends on the age of the system", the team of astronomers explain in their report, and how much water the planets originally formed with.

Vincent Bourrier, from the Observatoire de l'Université de Genève, who led the worldwide team of astronomers, makes it clear though, that with the data they have and current telescope technology, no definitive conclusion can be drawn on the water content of the exoplanets.

"Ultraviolet radiation is an important factor in the atmospheric evolution of planets", says Bourrier.

However, that isn't the case for the other planets in the system.

Vincent Bourrier, one of the scientists who made this discovery supporting the importance of UV radiations in an atmosphere of the planet expressed his views saying "While our results suggest that the outer planets are the best candidates to search for water with the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope".

This artist's rendition shows what the surface of a planet in the TRAPPIST-1 system might look like.

If the planets had little or no water to start with, the destruction of water molecules by UV radiation could spell the end of the planets' habitability.

The star-called TRAPPIST-1-is an ultracool dwarf star 40 light years away.

Astronomers used Hubble to try and estimate whether there might be water on any of the seven TRAPPIST-1 planets. Of course, the inner planets are closer to the star and thus receive the most ultraviolet energy.

Because hydrogen gas is so light, it can escape the atmosphere of the exoplanets and be detected by Hubble, suggesting the possible presence of atmospheric water vapour. "As in our own atmosphere, where ultraviolet sunlight breaks molecules apart, ultraviolet starlight can break water vapor in the atmospheres of exoplanets into hydrogen and oxygen".

TRAPPIST-1b and 1c get the biggest dose of UV energy and could have lost more than 20 Earth-oceans-worth of water over the last eight billion years. They hold out hope that subsequent studies will be able to make this detection.

That said, the outer planets may still harbor plenty of water that hasn't been lost to space.

It shows that "atmospheric escape may play an important role in the evolution of these planets", said Julien de Wit, co-author of the study and a researcher from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The "habitable zone" planets, designated e, f and g, are thought to have lost a lot less moisture, meaning they likely still have a large store.

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