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Astronomers, using ground-based and orbiting telescopes, have obtained more information about the seven Earth-sized exoplanets that orbit the star Trappist-1 forty light years away.
First, a European effort has found that the planets probably all have loads of water.
A new study has found that the seven planets orbiting the nearby ultra-cool dwarf star TRAPPIST-1 are all made mostly of rock, and some could potentially hold more water than Earth. The planets’ densities, now known much more precisely than before, suggest that some of them could have up to 5 percent of their mass in the form of water — about 250 times more than Earth’s oceans. The hotter planets closest to their parent star are likely to have dense steamy atmospheres and the more distant ones probably have icy surfaces. In terms of size, density and the amount of radiation it receives from its star, the fourth planet out is the most similar to Earth. It seems to be the rockiest planet of the seven, and has the potential to host liquid water.
Data from the Hubble Space Telescope has meanwhile found that three of the seven planets do not have hydrogen in their atmospheres, which at first seems to contradict the European data.
The Hubble observations took advantage of the fact that the planets cross in front of their star every few days. Using the Wide Field Camera 3, astronomers made spectroscopic observations in infrared light, looking for the signature of hydrogen that would filter through a puffy, extended atmosphere, if it were present. “The planets are close enough to their host star, and they have very short orbital periods, which means there are lots of opportunities to make observations,” Lewis said.
Although Hubble did not find evidence of hydrogen, the researchers suspect the planetary atmospheres could have contained this lightweight gaseous element when they first formed. The planets may have formed farther away from their parent star in a colder region of the gaseous protostellar disk that once encircled the infant star.
The Hubble results are actually not very significant. They show only that they did not detect hydrogen in the atmospheres of these three exoplanets, which does not mean it isn’t there. Moreover, this Hubble press release appears to have been issued as much to sell the James Webb Space Telescope and to say that Hubble is looking at Trappist-1 also!
I should add that all of these results are very uncertain. We are looking at something that is very small and is also very far away. Any data obtained is certainly not a precise measurement of what is actually there, only a mere hint.