Study gives new insights into TRAPPIST-1 exoplanets

TRAPPIST-1 planets could hold 250 times more water than the oceans on Earth

The planets of the Trappist-1 star are so close together that an observer on the surface of one of them would have a spectacular view of the neighboring planets in the sky, some of which would appear larger than the Moon.

Planets closest to the star are more likely to host water in the form of atmospheric vapour, while those farther away may have water frozen on their surfaces as ice.

At least four of the Trappist-1 planets are thought to have climates similar to Earth, where oceans could be found. Researchers determined that all of the planets are mostly made of rock.

This new study focuses on the density of the 7 TRAPPIST-1 planets.

Dr Amaury Triaud, from the University of Birmingham, who was a leading member on the team helping with the study, said: "Of the seven planets, and of all the exoplanets that have been identified so far, Trappist-1e is the most resembling Earth, when we consider the amount of energy a planet receives from its star, and its density, which reflects its internal composition".

This reinforces the idea that TRAPPIST-1's seven planets are similar to the rocky worlds of our solar system.

"We now know more about TRAPPIST-1 than any other planetary system apart from our own", Sean Carey, manager of the Spitzer Science Center and co-author of the study, said in NASA's release.

The team looked to the planets' transits across the star.

Some of the TRAPPIST-1 planets have as high as 5 percent of their mass consisting of water, according to the report. Although all seven are closer to their star than Hermes in the Sun, they are not "baked" because Trappist-1 is a very faint star.

"Hubble is doing the preliminary reconnaissance work so that astronomers using Webb know where to start", said Nikole Lewis of the Space Telescope Science Institute, co-leader of the Hubble study. For each planet, researchers had to come up with a model based on the newly measured masses, the orbital periods and a variety of other factors - making it an extremely hard, "35-dimensional problem", Grimm said. Planets above the line are less dense and planets below are more dense. Then they tried to improve the measurements of the radii and masses of the near-Earth sized planets that revolve around the star.

What might these planets look like? In our own solar system, the Moon and Mars have almost the same density, yet their surfaces appear entirely different. Study co-author Brice-Olivier Demory, at the University of Bern, said as much: "Densities, while important clues to the planets' compositions, do not say anything about habitability".

A new study of the tightly-packed family of planets 40 light years from Earth has confirmed that it could be the best place to find life outside our solar system.

- Trappist-1d is the lightest of all, with only 30% of Earth's mass.

The data obtained rule out a cloud-free hydrogen-rich atmosphere for three of the planets. According to the scientists, TRAPPIST-1e, the fourth from the star, looks more like our Earth and might be a great candidate for supporting life. It is mysterious why TRAPPIST-1e has a much rockier composition than the rest of the planets. Webb will probe deeper into the planetary atmospheres, searching for heavier gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, water and oxygen.

"It is interesting that the densest planets are not the ones that are the closest to the star, and that the colder planets can not harbor thick atmospheres", said Caroline Dorn, study co-author based at the University of Zurich, Switzerland.

This diagram compares the sizes, masses and estimated temperatures of the TRAPPIST-1 planets with Solar System planets. This is called a transit.

Planets f, g, and h could all be ocean worlds or covered with icy shells, depending on the amount of greenhouse gases in their atmospheres. This shows up in small variations in how long an orbit takes; sometimes a planet is pulled ahead by its neighbors, other times it is dragged back. Then, mass and radius are used to calculate density. It's the only planet in the system slightly denser than Earth. NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has now surveyed six of the seven TRAPPIST-1 planets, and new results on four of them are published in Nature Astronomy.

The planets d, e, f and g are the newly analysed, with d, e, and f seen without hydrogen/helium atmospheres.

Illustrations of these worlds will change as ongoing scientificinvestigations home in on their properties.

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