TRAPPIST-1, a small Jupiter of approximately 39 light-years from the Earth, has at least seven planets, three of them orbiting in a star-friendly zone, where temperatures can allow water to exist on the surface – a key development factor of life as it is currently understood.
New research shows that all the worlds TRAPPIST-1 were baked during the extremely frenetic early stage of their star's history, boiling the water that may have existed and leaving a dense atmosphere similar to Venus. But one of the worlds – TRAPPIST-1e – may have survived that fate to become a more world-like world.
While there are still unknown and assumptions in the research, "this is a whole series of planets that can give us insights into the evolution of the planets, especially around a star that is very different from ours, with a different light being downloaded," said Andrew Lynchowski, postdoctoral a student at the University of Washington and a major author of a paper in the Astrophysical Journal. "It's just a gold mine."
The Lincovsky team combines terrestrial climate modeling with photo-chemistry to simulate the surroundings of TRAPPIST-1 worlds.
They concluded that TRAPPIST-1b, the nearest planet to the star, is probably too hot even to form clouds of sulfuric acid. Planets c and d are hot enough to resemble Venus, while external planets f, g, and h could either be Venus or frozen, depending on how much water was present early.
Only TRAPPIST-1e seems to have the potential to be a planet similar to the Earth today, but that's not a safe thing to do. It depends on how much water was originally present.
"If the planet TRAPPIST-1 does not lose all the water at this stage, today it could be a watery world fully covered with a global ocean," said Lynchowski. "In this case, there may be a climate similar to the Earth."
Co-author Jakob Lustig-Jager said the research "informed the scientific community about what we can expect to see the TRAPPIST-1 planets with the forthcoming James Web Space Telescope.