TRAPPIST-1 May Have Water-Rich Planets (Important) (Download PDF)


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Planets around the faint red star TRAPPIST-1, 40 light-years from Earth, may host significant amounts of water. The shifts of TRAPPIST-1 planets depend on the planets’ masses, their distances, and other orbital parameters.

TRAPPIST-1 System Image

TRAPPIST-1 System Image

TRAPPIST-1 System Image

What is TRAPPIST-1?

  • The TRAPPIST-1 planetary system was first detected in 2016.

  • Further observations showed that there are at least seven planets in the system, each roughly the same size as the Earth.

  • They are named TRAPPIST-1b, c, d, e, f, g and h, with increasing distance from the central star.

Scientist Found Water On the Planets

Scientists at University of Bern led by Simon Grimm in Switzerland applied complex computer modelling methods to all the available data to determine that the planet densities with better precision. Based on these densities the conclusion of water on planets was drawn.

  • The TRAPPIST-1 planets are so close together that they interfere with each other gravitationally, so the times when they pass in front of the star shift slightly.

  • The shifts of TRAPPIST-1 planets depend on the planets’ masses, their distances, and other orbital parameters.

  • Using a computer model, simulation of the planets’ orbits was done until the calculated transits agreed with the observed values, and hence the planetary masses were derived.

  • The measurements of the densities, when combined with models of the planets’ compositions, strongly suggest that the seven TRAPPIST-1 planets contain significant amounts of volatile material, probably water, amounting to up to five per cent the planet’s mass in some cases.

  • The Earth has about 0.02 per cent water by mass.

Other Findings

  • TRAPPIST-1b and c, the innermost planets, are likely to have rocky cores and be surrounded by atmospheres much thicker than Earth’s.

  • TRAPPIST-1d is the lightest of the planets at about 30 % the mass of Earth. It is uncertain whether it has a large atmosphere, an ocean, or an ice layer.

  • TRAPPIST-1e is the only planet in the system slightly denser than Earth, it may have a denser iron core and that it does not necessarily have a thick atmosphere, ocean or ice layer. It appears to be so much rockier in its composition than the rest of the planets. In terms of size, density and the amount of radiation it receives from its star, TRAPPIST-1e is the planet that is most similar to Earth.

  • TRAPPIST-1f, g and h are far enough from the host star that water could be frozen into ice across their surfaces. They would be unlikely to contain the heavy molecules that we find on Earth, such as carbon dioxide.
  • The densest planets are not the ones that are the closest to the star, and that the colder planets cannot harbour thick atmospheres

What is TRAPPIST-1?

  • TRAPPIST-1, also designated as 2MASS J23062928 - 0502285, is an ultra-cool red dwarf star.

  • It is slightly larger but much more massive than the planet Jupiter, located 39.6 light-years from the Sun in the constellation Aquarius.

  • Seven temperate terrestrial planets have been detected orbiting the star

- Published/Last Modified on: March 29, 2018

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