Three very Earth-like planets that orbit the star TRAPPIST-1, may not be as habitable for alien life as scientists originally thought, two new studies reported Wednesday.
Three of TRAPPIST-1’s seven planets are potentially habitable, but they’re likely subject to intense radiation that would strip atmospheres off, making it exceedingly difficult for alien life to develop.
“Because of the onslaught by the star’s radiation, our results suggest the atmosphere on planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system would largely be destroyed,” Avi Loeb, a Harvard astronomer who co-authored one of the studies, said in a statement. “This would hurt the chances of life forming or persisting.”
The studys’ findings are a major reversal, as scientists initially believed TRAPPIST-1 could be a better place for life to develop than our own solar system.
TRAPPIST is much cooler than our sun, but three of its seven planets are likely in its “Goldilocks Zone,” where liquid water can theoretically form. The potential presence of liquid water on these worlds made scientists think they were potentially habitable.
Researchers previously estimated that the size and density of the planets as highly suitable for Earth-like life to develop. One of the potentially inhabitable planets, dubbed TRAPPIST-1E, is very similar in size to Earth and likely has very similar temperatures. While another, called TRAPPIST-1F, is potentially covered in water.
Previous studies found solar flares strike the three potentially inhabitable planets more than previously believed, dampening scientists’ hope that the planets might be a good place to look for aliens.
Researchers looked at data from TRAPPIST-1 for 80 days and saw 42 powerful solar flares. These events are the result of stellar magnetism and cause the star to suddenly brighten and emit vast quantities of radiation.
The prevalence of such strong solar flares means life would be unlikely to develop in TRAPPIST. Since these solar flares occur so frequently, atmospheres on the planets in the system would likely never reach a steady state. A strong enough planetary magnetosphere could shield the three worlds from the harmful effects of solar flares, but scientists say this would require unrealistically strong magnetic fields.
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