NASA's Hubble Detects Signs of Water on Potentially Habitable TRAPPIST-1 Planets

A study of the nearby TRAPPIST-1 planetary system - you remember, it's the one that scientists freaked out about earlier this year - has revealed that at least some of the planets probably have a significant amount of water, including the three worlds located within the star's habitable zone. Recently, an global team of scientists used the Hubble Space Telescope to assess the chances of water existing on these planets-and the results are promising.

During the research period, they studied the quantity of inward ultraviolet or UV radiation, received by each of the seven planets of the TRAPPIST-1 system, and conducted a series of calculations for determining how this emission might be dominating the amount of water on each planet.

And the latest results from the Hubble Information Centre have suggested that the outer planets of the system may harbour floods of water, needed to support life.

"Ultraviolet radiation is an important factor in the atmospheric evolution of planets", Vincent Bourrier, one of the scientists who made this discovery, said in a statement.


Astronomers used Hubble to try and estimate whether there might be water on any of the seven TRAPPIST-1 planets.

While TRAPPIST-1g, TRAPPIST-1f, and TRAPPIST-1e are expected to have water on their surfaces.

None can imagine, traveling to TRAPPIST - 1 at the speed of light for 40 years and again forty years to get back to earth. Of course, the inner planets are closer to the star and thus receive the most ultraviolet energy. Hydrogen escaping from the atmospheres can thus be detected by Hubble.

Some of the outer planets, including e, f, and g, could have water on their surfaces. "As in Earth's atmosphere, where UV sunlight breaks molecules apart, UV starlight can break water vapor in the atmospheres of exoplanets into hydrogen and oxygen", Dr. Bourrier said.


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.

"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.

The researchers concluded that the innermost planets, TRAPPIST-1b and TRAPPIST-1c, receive so much UV radiation that they would have lost vast amounts of water - as much as 20 times as much as is contained in the oceans of Earth - over the last 8 billion years.

"While our results suggest that the outer planets are the best candidates to search for water with the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, they also highlight the need for theoretical studies and complementary observations at all wavelengths to determine the nature of the TRAPPIST-1 planets and their potential habitability", adds Bourrier.



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