Astronomers with help from the Hubble Space Telescope have conducted their first search for Earth-sized planets beyond our solar system.
By Jonathan Stroud
The findings focus on two exoplanets, TRAPPIST-1b and TRAPPIST-1c, approximately 40 light-years away. The conclusions drawn show the Earth-Sized exoplanets with a low chance of having a hydrogen-dominated atmospheres typically found on gas planets, putting them at an increased chances having habitable surfaces. This does not confirm either planet type, but it does raise the probability of having rocky surfaces. The two planets located in the Aquarius constellation are approximately 40-light-years away from Earth, and both orbit a red dwarf class of star estimated to be 500 millions years old. Both the exoplanets TRAPPIST-1b and TRAPPIST-1c are 20 and 100 times closer to their star than Earth is to the Sun. Researchers believe that because the red dwarf is much fainter than the Sun at least one of the planets may be within the habitable zone and contain liquid water.
According to Nikole Lewis of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, “The lack of a smothering hydrogen-helium envelope increases the chances for habitability on these planets.” The scientists used Hubble’s Wide Field Camera to decode spectroscopy light and revealed clues to the chemical makeup of the atmospheres. Unfortunately, they were unable to determine the exact contents the atmospheres and further observations are still need.
The two exoplanets were discovered in 2015 by the Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST), a European Space Agency Belgian robotic telescope located in La Silla Observatory in Chile.
Watch a short NASA Video Explaining the discovery: *Video credit: NASA
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*Featured photo credit: NASA