TRAPPIST-1 planets could contain substantial amounts of water

An worldwide team of astronomers used the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to estimate whether there might be water on the seven earth-sized planets orbiting the nearby dwarf star TRAPPIST-1.

New observations from the Hubble telescope have provided the first hints that water may still exist on the outer planets of the TRAPPIST-1 star.

Observations using the Hubble's Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph indicate that while the radiation from the star is indeed intense, it is likely that the innermost planets were the ones that were truly devastated by it. It is orbited by seven Earth-size planets, according to the Hubble Space Telescope.

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. "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". However, the three potentially habitable planets could have lost less water than others and now are also wetter enough to host life.

In observing Trappist-1, and calculating the water loss rates and the geophysical water release rates, the researchers found that some of the planets may have lost huge amounts of water as a result of the incoming ultraviolet radiation from their host star. The study was led by Swiss astronomer Vincent Bourrier from the Geneva Observatory in Switzerland and colleagues. Furthermore, depending on photolysis, which is the separation of molecules by light, it's possible all of the planets apart from B and C harbor water above ground. We caution that these estimates remain limited by the large uncertainty on the planet masses. As they wrote in their paper, published in the Astronomical Journal, "ultraviolet transit spectroscopy is a powerful way to search for signatures of atmospheric escape from exoplanets".

This artist's rendition shows what the surface of a planet in the TRAPPIST-1 system might look like. This makes it very unlikely they would still hold enough water to support life.

Why do planetary astronomers continue to think these worlds may have a lot of water?

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. From all the studies done on this system, astronomers think the seven planets may have originally formed much farther out from their star, in a cold region that contains crystals of water ice.


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