May 18, 2024

There may be no chance for life: a promising planetary system disappoints astronomers

This is what the seven planets in Trappist-1 could look like.


Astronomers once hoped to find extraterrestrial life in the TRAPPIST-1 system. But closer investigations bring one disappointment after another.

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  • A star containing seven exoplanets has raised hopes of detecting life.
  • But the closer Trappist-1 was explored, the more disappointing the results were.
  • Researchers now suspect the possibility of destroying the atmosphere of the planet TRAPPIST-1 by electrical heating.

Trappist-1 is a star about 40 light-years away from us and orbited by at least seven planets. Four of them are located in the habitable zone, at the right distance from Trappist-1 to have liquid water on their surfaces. The four planets also have an Earth-like character and are made of rock.

This made TRAPPIST-1 one of the most prominent planetary systems, and much research was focused on it as astronomers hoped to discover signs of life here. But the better the research on Trappist-1 is done, the more realistic the results will be.

The exoplanet relies on electrical heating

As early as 2023, studies by the James Webb Space Telescope found that Trappist-1b, the planet closest to the star, has no atmosphere. It was determined that Trappist-1c either has no atmosphere or has a very thin atmosphere containing less carbon dioxide than Earth or Mars.

Now Trappist-1e has been put under the microscope. according to Stady According to the Astrophysical Journal, any atmosphere present there would quickly burn up, due to an effect that also ensures the presence of electrical heaters. When electricity flows through a conductive medium, heat is generated, more precisely Joule heat.

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Electricity heats the atmosphere

Trappist-1 is a red dwarf, which means its radiation is much lower than that of the Sun, which means the planet's habitable zone is much closer. Trappist-1e orbits its star at a similar speed and passes through rapidly changing magnetic fields. This creates a huge electrical current in the atmosphere, which in turn generates heat.

This effect also exists on Earth, but it is about 100,000 times weaker. In contrast, Trappist-1e's atmosphere would be so hot that molecules would vaporize into space. According to the researchers, the same could happen on other planets in TRAPPIST-1, such that the entire system would be hostile to life.