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Habitable planets may be much rarer than previously thought

Habitable planets may be much rarer than previously thought

About 40 light-years from Earth, a group of seven Earth-size planets orbit a star called TRAPPIST-1. Now, scientists studying the system with the Webb Space Telescope have found one of them, TRAPPIST-1 ceither lacks an atmosphere or has a very thin atmosphere, indicating that habitable planets may be fewer and farther away in the universe.

Notes follow A web investigation of TRAPPIST-1bAnother world in the group. TRAPPIST-1 b It also lacks an atmosphere, or envelope of gases that surrounds some planets.

If the atmosphere is already around it monk-1 cIt is likely, researchers say Thin, Clear, and made mostly of carbon dioxide, according to the Space Telescope Science Institute launch.

Neither world is in the habitable zone (or Goldilocks) of the TRAPPIST system, so named for being close enough (also close enough) to the host star to have livable temperatures. TRAPPIST-1 c orbits its host star at a distance of approximately 1.5 million miles (2.41 million km). TRAPPIST-1 bcfriendshiptoo close to their star to be in the system’s habitable zone, According to NASAbut the lack of atmosphere around the former two confirms that they are uninhabitable.

Atmospheres are essential to the existence of life on the surface (as opposed to a dwelling in Subterranean oceans, such as those on Saturn’s moon Enceladus or Jupiter’s moon Europa). BBesides providing breathable air, planetary atmospheres allow worlds to retain and distribute the heat they receive from their stars. So instead of a world with hundreds of degrees on one side and below freezing on the other, the planet could maintain a more uniform temperature across its surface.

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Even if the planet’s atmosphere is thin, the gases circulating around the globe could be used on future manned missions to produce breathable air. The persistent rover has proven itself in 2021, when it was It produced 5 grams of oxygen of carbon dioxide-The rich atmosphere of Mars.

In the latest investigation, Webb’s team studied the emission spectra of TRAPPIST-1 c and the planet’s light curve, or change in brightness that indicates the global temperature and whether an atmosphere is present.

such as TRAPPIST-1bTRAPPIST-1c Very warm The team recorded global temperatures between 170 degrees and 280 degrees Fahrenheit (77 and 138 degrees c). The cool star in the orbit of the TRAPPIST planets emits X-rays and ultraviolet radiation, which could do so Erosion of any nearby planetary atmosphere.

Besides looking at some of the oldest light in the universe, the Webb telescope–with its perceptive view into the infrared and near-infrared wavelengths–gives scientists a detailed new look at exoplanets, or worlds outside our solar system.

Illustration of the TRAPPIST-1 system and its habitable zone and our inner solar system and its habitable zone.

in the footsteps Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) and the Kepler Space TelescopeWebb reveals the formation of exoplanets Atmosphere and weatherwhich helps scientists understand the variety of worlds out there – as well as how many people have habitable conditions like Earth. Finding habitable worlds is a critical goal for astronomers, such as The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine announced its scope nodal plan.

NASA does part. having just launched Webb in late 2021, the agency Recently revealed new details The next generation of habitable worlds observatorya proposed space telescope dedicated to searching for the Goldilocks planets. Until these plans bear fruit, Webb’s observations will help clarify what humanity can hope for – and expect – from the conditions of exoplanets around distant stars.

More: Webb telescope discovers planet with ‘bold’ clouds just 40 light-years away