MAR 21, 2018 06:38 PM PDT

Exoplanets in the TRAPPIST-1 System May Have Too Much Water for Life to Exist

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard
3 3 347

The TRAPPIST-1 system made headlines last year when astronomers found not just one, but seven terrestrial Earth-like exoplanets orbiting the red dwarf star at the center. Since this discovery, astronomers have unceasingly probed the system for clues as to whether any of its exoplanets sport habitable conditions.

An artist's rendition of the TRAPPIST-1 system, in which seven Earth-like exoplanets orbit an ultra-cool red dwarf star at the center.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

With water being one of the key ingredients for life, it just so happens to be one of the primary things astronomers search for when studying distant exoplanets. Those residing in the TRAPPIST-1 system purportedly exist within the host star’s ‘habitable zone,’ and so their conditions should be optimal for water.

At first glance, this may seem like a positive finding, but researchers from both the University of Arizona and Vanderbilt University now suggest that these worlds could have too much water for life to exist on them. They’ve published their findings in the journal Nature Astronomy this week.

“We typically think having liquid water on a planet as a way to start life, since life, as we know it on Earth, is composed mostly of water and requires it to live,” explained Natalie Hinkel, a postdoctoral scholar from Vanderbilt University.

“However, a planet that is a water world, or one that doesn’t have any surface above the water, does not have the important geochemical or elemental cycles that are absolutely necessary for life.”

Related: TRAPPIST-1 appears to be older than initially thought

But wait, doesn’t Earth have a lot of water? Yes, and no. Water covers approximately two-thirds of our planet’s surface, but it only accounts for a mere 0.2% of Earth’s mass. For comparison, computer models suggest that the exoplanets residing in the TRAPPIST-1 system could have water masses that range from 10-50% – that’s significantly more than Earth’s.

Image Credit: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

But where did all that water come from? That's a good question, and the computer models seem to provide a subtle clue.

Related: NASA's Kepler Space Telescope grabs this image of the TRAPPIST-1 system

The researchers noticed that all seven of the exoplanets in the TRAPPIST-1 system exist within the ‘ice line,’ which means that these exoplanets probably formed further away from the host star where ice could safely accrete, and then slowly migrated inward over time.

Given how astronomers are always looking for life elsewhere in the universe, these findings are somewhat significant. They just might tell us that we need to look elsewhere for signs of life, or more importantly, underscore just how unique our little blue planet actually is.

Source: Vanderbilt University

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
APR 16, 2018
Space & Astronomy
APR 16, 2018
SpaceX Delays TESS Launch
SpaceX was originally poised to ignite the engines of one of its flagship Falcon 9 rockets Monday evening, but it now seems that some unexpected delays hav
JUN 05, 2018
Space & Astronomy
JUN 05, 2018
Meet IMAP, NASA's Upcoming Mission to Study the Heliosphere
A protective bubble comprised of solar wind plasma surrounds the entire solar system. Known as the heliosphere, this bubble exists because the solar wind&r
JUL 02, 2018
Technology
JUL 02, 2018
Video: Listen to Satellites With NASA Sound Art
The Orbit Pavilion Delivers Satellite Data as Sound
JUL 02, 2018
Videos
JUL 02, 2018
Watch SpaceX's Dragon Cargo Ship Dock with the International Space Station
Just as expected, SpaceX’s Dragon cargo spaceship docked with the International Space Station on Monday to provide crew members with fresh food, supp
JUL 10, 2018
Space & Astronomy
JUL 10, 2018
Israel Will Soon Put An Unmanned Spacecraft on the Lunar Surface
The Moon is familiar territory to NASA and to a handful of other space agencies from around the globe, but not so much to the private sector. On the other
JUL 31, 2018
Space & Astronomy
JUL 31, 2018
Underground Lake of Briny Water Detected on Mars
There’s seemingly endless evidence that water once flowed on the Martian surface, and in addition to that, many theories exist concerning the presenc
Loading Comments...