Go out tonight and gaze at Jupiter shining brightly to the south. Now look to its right and travel 235 trillion miles (378 trillion kilometers) into the cosmos. Here, between the head of Pisces and the side of Aquarius, is an ordinary star called TRAPPIST-1, an ultra-cold red dwarf discovered in 1999.
TRAPPIST-1 It was mostly forgotten until 2017, when NASA announced it was hosting the bridge. SoilPlanets with a magnitude of 3.5 that have so far been in the habitable zone of a single star. exoplanet-hunters have been obsessed with TRAPPIST-1 ever since. At last count, there were seven planets in the neighborhood that nearly matched the eight planets in our solar system. But is TRAPPIST-1 a mirror or a mirage? Could it contain Earth-like planets — and possibly life — or would its temporary resemblance to the solar system obscure alien planets with inhospitable conditions?
point to James Webb Space Telescope (Webb or JWST) hopes exoplanet astronomers will reveal the true nature of this unique planetary system. using your talent characterize the atmosphere of an exoplanetRecently proven on WASP-96b, JWST looks at each of the seven planets in their first year of operation, and we are on the cusp of initial results.
Related: Best images of all time from the James Webb Space Telescope (gallery)
Just 39 light-years from Earth – a cosmically close neighbor – the star TRAPPIST-1 is unlike the sun. The star is about 10 times the mass of the Sun and its width is about Jupiter. However, what excites exoplanet hunters is what’s in its orbit. Three planets were discovered in 2016 by a Belgian telescope called TRAPPIST – Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope at La Silla Observatory in Chile.
This discovery has been amply confirmed by NASA’s now retired researchers. Spitzer Space Telescope “The Spitzer Space Telescope played a huge role in uncovering the TRAPPIST-1 system, and JWST is following up,” Nikole K. Lewis, an exoplanet scientist at Cornell University, told Space.com.
Spitzer stared at TRAPPIST-1 for 1,000 hours and was able to tell us there were seven planets in the system. Spitzer also measured both the mass and radius of each world, allowing for basic calculations of the densities of planets, all of which were similar to Earth’s. Astronomers have been nervous ever since.
Studying their atmosphere
“We know that TRAPPIST-1 planets are made of materials just like Earth,” Lewis said. “So they could have Earth-like atmospheres.”
Lewis in 2018 Hubble space telescope to scan the atmospheres of planets. “We haven’t seen any atmospheric signals, but we know they don’t have large, fluffy hydrogen- and helium-rich atmospheres, as you might expect,” Lewis said. Said. Associated with such atmospheres gas giant like planets Saturn and Jupiter.
But Hubble had reached its limits. Check JWST. “The TRAPPIST system has been in the JWST plan for a long time, and since we’ve known it for six years, we were really able to be confident that we were observing it to the best of JWST’s capabilities,” Lewis said.
TRAPPIST-1: solar system 2.0?
And astronomers spent that time learning as much as possible about the seven TRAPPIST-1 worlds. A 2018 study suggested that their planets are rocky and some may be wetter than Earth. Another study in 2021 argued that although less dense than planets in our solar system, they are likely rocky.
The TRAPPIST-1 system probably doesn’t look much like the solar system. Although four of the seven planets occupy the star’s habitable zone – close enough to be hot enough to contain liquid water – they all revolve around their own orbits. stale Closer Mercury does the sun
Given that the star is much dimmer than our sun, this may not affect temperatures much, but it does greatly affect conditions on planets. For example, the closest planet, TRAPPIST-1b, orbits its star in 1.9 Earth days. This is a very short year. At the furthest date, TRAPPIST-1h, a year takes as much as 19 days. What’s more, all planets are most likely tidally locked, just like the Moon is relative to Earth, so only one side gets daylight.
Despite these differences, TRAPPIST-1 remains the top exoplanet target for JWST due to its rocky planetary diversity. And despite being one of the most studied planetary systems, scientists still think TRAPPIST-1 has many more secrets to uncover.
TRAPPIST-1 in transition
TRAPPIST-1 is the only star system we know of with seven potentially Earth-like planets, but closest planetary system. That honor belongs to Proxima Centauri, located 4.24 light-years from Earth.
So why the magic of TRAPPIST-1, which is 10 times further away? “Proxima isn’t transiting, and what we need are transiting exoplanets,” Lisa Kaltenegger, an astronomer at Cornell University, told Space.com. Our view of the TRAPPIST-1 system is excellent, and our telescopes can see its seven planets passing through the star’s disk.
“The closest transiting planets give us the most cyclical signal, which is why TRAPPIST-1 is one of our favorite systems,” Kaltenegger said. Astronomers can watch the rotation of the TRAPPIST-1 planets.
First look at JWST
Can JWST find out what’s going on in the atmospheres of these seven rocky exoplanets? Webb’s NIRSpec instrument making it the only telescope that can identify the signatures of molecules like methane, carbon dioxide and oxygen – possible signs of life on the surface and clues to the structure of a planet’s atmosphere. Last week, astronomers got a first look at JWST’s TRAPPIST-1 system, after doing some promising work to decipher the gases found in WASP-39b’s atmosphere.
Not yet peer-reviewed or published, but conference At JWST’s Headquarters – the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore – on Dec.
astronomer Björn Benneke of the University of Montreal in Canada, shown that TRAPPIST-1g does not have a hydrogen-rich atmosphere. Olivia Lim and Ph.D. Student at the University of Montreal, also made a presentation banner with similar results for TRAPPIST-1b (part of a discovery program Like Alexander Rathcke, an astronomer at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, all TRAPPIST-1 planets observations of TRAPPIST-1c.
So, there aren’t any headline-making discoveries about any TRAPPIST-1 planet in JWST’s initial observations.
What’s next for JWST?
But do not be discouraged by the lack of revelation in these early results. It’s about exploration, which is understanding how to make the best use of JWST’s precision and various instruments.
“These initial observations will put us more or less on par with Hubble, but we’ll know how to use the tools we want to use,” Lewis said. “We will need to do multiple observations with JWST to generate the signals we need, and thanks to JWST’s longevity we can continue to revisit and learn more.”
Lewis will review TRAPPIST-1e. “In the middle of the habitable zone, it’s closest to Earth’s size,” he said.
Remember, this research is only about the atmospheres of planets. “We probably won’t start asking questions about aliens for a few cycles!” said Lewis.
But exoplanet science cannot be done alone. Lewis is working with the University of Montreal as his observations of two other planets in the habitable zone, TRAPPIST-1d and TRAPPIST-1f, will together form a fascinating comparative example.
“Having Venus, Earth, and Mars in our own solar system really gave us a lot of information about why Earth is habitable, about global warming, and what might happen if Earth were a little smaller,” Lewis said.
The core future of TRAPPIST-1
One of the TRAPPIST-1 planets will make history by hosting the first detected atmosphere of an Earth-size planet beyond our solar system. The next few months, years, and decades will see the TRAPPIST-1 system gradually emerge in exquisite detail. But expect to see the neighborhood used to conduct some basic exoplanet science, in addition to finding out the true nature of the seven Earth-sized planets.
“We’ll be able to study the actual impact of the star on a relatively Earth-like, rocky planet,” Kaltenegger said, “and see if our concept of the habitable zone really works in practice.”
All this opportunity is due to the incredible properties of a fairly close star system. “TRAPPIST-1’s planets are all roughly the same size, but at different distances from their stars, so we can explore them and think about the processes that shaped them,” Lewis said. “It’s as if nature gave us this excellent laboratory experiment.”
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