Scientists find evidence of water on TRAPPIST-1 planets

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

The seven recently discovered exoplanets orbiting the TRAPPIST-1 star 40 light-years away, are the most Earth-sized planets discovered in a single system to date. Now, an worldwide team of scientists believes those planets may harbor a considerable amount of 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. If there were too much UV light, no water could survive on the surface because the water molecules would break up and escape through the top of the atmosphere as hydrogen and oxygen gas.

Water is just one part of the equation for habitability on the TRAPPIST-1 planets.

"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. At the same time, measurements of the amount of ultraviolet light hitting these planets allow scientists to estimate the rate at which their atmospheres are bleeding into space.

The seven TRAPPIST-1 planets all orbit their parent star closer than Mercury orbits the sun.

Bourrier suggested that the launch of James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to Hubble, in October 2018 could make up for the lack of conclusive data about the atmospheres of the planets. "As in our own atmosphere, where ultraviolet sunlight breaks molecules apart, ultraviolet starlight can break water vapour in the atmospheres of exoplanets into hydrogen and oxygen".

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However, as far as finding signs of hydrogen surrounding the TRAPPIST-1 worlds, the results on that were inconclusive.

Some of the outer planets, including e, f, and g, could have water on their surfaces. Using these figures and other scientific research, the team concluded that six of the exoplanets nearest Trappist-1 "could have lost more than 20 Earth oceans" of water throughout their history.

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.

"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", says Bourrier.

As the study paper claimed, it is possible that the six innermost planets of the TRAPPIST-1system, coated with the maximum levels of ultraviolet radiation, could have lost almost worth of 20 Earth's Ocean water some 8 billion years ago.

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