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Earthsized planets could be habitable
© NASA/JPL-Caltech

Earth-sized planets could be habitable

01/09/17Science & Technology

According to an international team of researchers, there could be water on multiple Earth-sized planets orbiting the recently discovered TRAPPIST-1 dwarf star.

Using the NASA/ESA Hubble telescope to estimate whether there may be water on the surface of the seven planets around TRAPPIST-1, the researchers found that although the innermost planets must have lost most – if not all – of their water, the outer planets of the system may still harbour substantial amounts.

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.

Professor Peter Wheatley, from the University of Warwick, UK, played a significant role in the project, measuring the X-ray irradiation of the planets by their parent star.

The observed amount of ultraviolet radiation emitted by TRAPPIST-1 suggests that the planets could have lost large amounts of water over the course of their history.

However, the outer planets of the system — including the planets e, f and g which are in the habitable zone — should have lost much less water, suggesting that they could have retained some on their surfaces.

Wheatley said: “It is exciting that we can now study the environments of individual Earth-sized planets. Our results suggest that water, and potentially Life, could have survived in the TRAPPIST-1 system, despite the relatively intense ultraviolet and X-ray irradiation of the planets.”

This study was led by the Swiss astronomer Vincent Bourrier from the Observatoire de l’Université de Genève.

Pan European Networks Ltd