Trappist-1 Can't Support Life: Scientists Discover Exoplanets Have Too Much Water

Tuesday, 20 March 2018 - 11:12AM
Space
Astronomy
Astrobiology
Tuesday, 20 March 2018 - 11:12AM
Trappist-1 Can't Support Life: Scientists Discover Exoplanets Have Too Much Water
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Image credit: YouTube

In the search for alien life, liquid water always seems to be the Holy Grail. Oceans are even better—oceans mean a lot of water and a stable temperature. In fact, as physicist Michio Kaku said recently, icy ocean worlds like Enceladus are probably our best bet for finding life, which will most likely be aquatic (and look like octopi).

 

The Trappist-1 system has been the front-runner when it comes to life-supporting planets for a while now, but new research from Arizona State University and Vanderbilt University has uncovered a bizarre new twist: the Trappist-1 planets may have too much water.



According to new models of the Trappist-1 planets (which are rocky and similar in size to Earth), each of their masses are made up of 10-50% water.

 

That's not how much of their surface is covered by water, mind you—that's how much of the planets' masses are taken up by water. For comparison, water makes up just 0.2% of Earth's mass.

 

All this extra water probably means that the planets are covered in deep oceans, with no above-water landmasses to contribute to the geochemical cycles that create atmospheres.

 

On top of that, the Trappist-1's planets are very close to their dim red dwarf star, which means that many of them are probably tidally locked, causing only one side of each planet to face the star and bathing the other in perpetual darkness (and freezing cold).



Red dwarfs are also notorious for solar flares, which can scour planets with deadly radiation and wipe out developing life.

 

The Earth is protected by a strong magnetosphere, but if the planets in the Trappist system don't have similar defenses, it would mean that any life that does manage to develop in all that water is going to have a hard time surviving.

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