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29 Mar, 2023
2 min time to read

Is it possible for any of these planets to sustain life?

The TRAPPIST-1 solar system, which consists of seven Earth-size planets, has drawn the attention of scientists who are eager to find out whether they could support life. The James Webb Space Telescope, a collaborative project of NASA, the European and Canadian space agencies, has finally released some of the much-awaited data. The initial atmospheric study of one of the rocky exoplanets that orbits TRAPPIST-1, which is only 41 light-years away from Earth, was conducted by astronomers, and the first results have been published in the journal Nature.

The findings may seem discouraging, as the innermost planet, TRAPPIST-1b, appears to be lacking an atmosphere and has a high temperature of 450 degrees Fahrenheit. This was determined through measurements of the planet's heat that is emitted as invisible infrared light. However, scientists are optimistic about the amount of research that is yet to be done on this exoplanet and others in the TRAPPIST system. One of the major accomplishments of the one-year-old telescope was the successful detection of light from an exoplanet as small and cool as the rocky planets in our solar system, a first for astronomers.

The temperature of the exoplanet was determined by measuring the change in its "brightness" as it moved behind the star. The planet does not emit its own visible light, but it glows in the infrared, which is invisible to the naked eye. The team was able to calculate the amount of infrared light being given off by the planet by subtracting the brightness of the star from the brightness of the star and planet combined, which helped them determine the exoplanet's temperature.

The TRAPPIST-1 system was discovered about six years ago, and it was immediately identified as an unusual family of tightly packed planets orbiting a red dwarf, a type of star that is smaller than the sun. Whether such stars can have planets with atmospheres capable of supporting life is an important question that Webb is expected to help answer. While experts have speculated that one or two of the TRAPPIST worlds may be habitable, red dwarf stars are known to be very active, bright when they are young, and they emit flares and X-rays that can potentially wipe out an atmosphere.