TRAPPIST-1 is a colddwarf star in the constellation Aquarius, with a surface temperature of about 2,566 K (2,293 °C; 4,159 °F). Discovered in 2000, it is slightly larger than Jupiter and has a mass of about 9% of that of the Sun. Located 40.7 light-years (12.47 parsecs) from the Sun, it is estimated to be 7.6 billion years old, making it older than the Solar System.
2MUDC 12171,2MASS J23062928–0502285, EPIC 246199087,K2-112, SPECULOOS-1, an internal name of the star used by the SPECULOOS project, as this star was its first discovery, and TRAPPIST-1a.
As many as four of the planets – designated d, e, f and g – orbit at distances where temperatures are suitable for the existence of liquid water, and are thus potentially hospitable to life. There is no evidence of an atmosphere on any of the planets and it is unclear whether radiation emissions from TRAPPIST-1 would allow for one. The planets have low densities; they may consist of large amounts of volatile materials.
True-colour illustration of the Sun(left) next to TRAPPIST-1 (right). TRAPPIST-1 is darker, redder, and smaller than the Sun.
TRAPPIST-1 is cold enough for condensates to form in its photosphere[h]; these have been detected through the polarization they induce in its radiation during transits of its planets. The star emits faint radiation at short wavelengths such as x-rays and UV radiation, as measured with the XMM-Newton satellite and other facilities with low precision.
Rotation period and ageEdit
Measurements of TRAPPIST-1's rotation have yielded a period of 3.3 days; earlier measurements of 1.4 days appear to have been caused by changes in the distribution of starspots. Its rotational axis may be slightly offset from that of its planets. Using a combination of techniques, the age of TRAPPIST-1 has been established at about 7.6±2.2 billion years, making it older than the Solar System. It is expected to shine for ten trillion years – about 700 times longer than the present age of the Universe – whereas the Sun will run out of hydrogen and leave the main sequence[i] in a few billion years.
Numerous photospheric features have been detected on TRAPPIST-1. The Kepler and Spitzer Space Telescopes have observed possible bright spots, which may be faculae,[j] although some of these may be too large to qualify as faculae. Bright spots are correlated to the occurrence of some stellar flares.[k] The photospheric features may introduce inaccuracies in measurements of TRAPPIST-1's planets; the effect of bright spots on the luminosity of TRAPPIST-1 may lead to the planets' densities being underestimated by 8+20 -7 percent, and to incorrect estimates of their water content.
TRAPPIST-1 loses about 3×10−14 solar masses per year to the stellar wind, a rate which is about 1.5 times that of the Sun.  Dong et al. (2018) simulated the observed properties of TRAPPIST-1 with a mass loss of 4.1×10−15 solar masses per year. Complicating matters, as of 2019 most of the parameters that govern TRAPPIST-1's stellar wind are not known from direct observation.
TRAPPIST-1 is orbited by seven planets, designated TRAPPIST-1b, 1c, 1d, 1e, 1f, 1g, and 1h in alphabetic order according to their distance from the star.[o] These planets have orbital periods ranging from 1.5 days to 19 days, at distances of between 0.011 astronomical units (1,700,000 km)[p] and 0.059 astronomical units (8,900,000 km). All of the planets are much closer to their star than Mercury is to the Sun, making the TRAPPIST-1 system very compact. Kral et al. (2018) did not detect any comets around TRAPPIST-1, and Marino et al. (2020) found no evidence of a Kuiper belt, although it is uncertain whether a Solar System-like belt around TRAPPIST-1 would be observable from Earth. Observations with the Atacama Large Millimeter Array have found no evidence of a circumstellar dust disk.
The inclinations of the orbits relative to the system's ecliptic are less than 0.1 degrees, making TRAPPIST-1 the flattest planetary system in the NASA Exoplanet Archive. The orbits are highly circular, with minimal eccentricities.[q] and are well-aligned with the spin axis of TRAPPIST-1. The planets orbit in the same plane and, from the perspective of the Solar System, transit TRAPPIST-1 during their orbit and frequently pass in front of each other.
The radii of the planets are estimated to range between 75% and 150% of Earth's radius. The planet:star mass ratio of the TRAPPIST-1 system resembles that of the moon:planet ratio of the Solar System's gas giants.
The TRAPPIST-1 planets are expected to have compositions that resemble each other as well as Earth. The estimated densities of the planets are lower than Earth's which may imply that their cores are smaller than that of Earth, that they have large amounts of volatile chemicals,[r] that their iron exists in an oxidised form rather than as a core, that their cores includes large amounts of other elements, or that they are rocky planets with less iron than Earth. The densities are too low for a pure magnesium silicate composition,[s] requiring the presence of lower-density molecular compounds such as water. Planets b, d, f, g and h are expected to contain large quantities of volatile compounds. The planets may have deep atmospheres and oceans, and contain vast amounts of ice. A number of compositions are possible considering the large uncertainties in their densities.
Animation of TRAPPIST-1 exoplanets transiting their host star. Depictions of the planetary surfaces are speculative.
The planets are in orbital resonances; the durations of their orbits have ratios of 8:5, 5:3, 3:2, 3:2, 4:3 and 3:2 between neighbouring planet pairs, and each set of three is in a Laplace resonance.[t]Simulations have shown such resonances can remain stable over billions of years but that their stability is strongly dependent on initial conditions; for many initial configurations, they become unstable after less than a million years. Scientists have used this conditional stability to make estimates of the masses of the TRAPPIST-1 planets. The resonances enhance the exchange of angular momentum between the planets, resulting in measurable variations – earlier or later – in their transit times in front of TRAPPIST-1. These variations yield information on the planetary system, such as the planets' masses, when other techniques are not available. The resonances and the proximity to the host star have led to comparisons between the TRAPPIST-1 system and the Galilean moons of Jupiter.Kepler-223 is another exoplanet system with a TRAPPIST-1-like long resonance.
The closeness of the planets to TRAPPIST-1 results in tidal interactions stronger than those on Earth. Tidal forces are dominated by the star's contributions and result in all of the planets having reached an equilibrium with slow planetary rotations and tidal locking, which can lead to the sychronisation of a planet's rotation to its revolution around its star.[u] The mutual interactions of the planets, however, could prevent them from reaching full synchronisation by forcing periodic or episodic full rotations of the planets' surfaces with respect to the star on timescales of several Earth years, which would have important implications for the planets' climates. Vinson, Tamayo and Hansen (2019) found the planets TRAPPIST-1d, e and f likely have chaotic rotations due to mutual interactions, preventing them from becoming synchronized to the star. Lack of synchronization potentially makes the planets more habitable. Other processes that can prevent synchronous rotation are torques induced by stable triaxial deformation of the planets,[v] which would allow them to enter 3:2 resonances.
The resonances continually excite the eccentricities of the TRAPPIST-1 planets, preventing their orbits from becoming fully circular. As a consequence, the planets are likely to undergo substantial tidal heating,[w] which would facilitate volcanism and outgassing, especially on the innermost planets. This heat source is likely dominant over radioactive decay, both of which have substantial uncertainties and are considerably less than the stellar radiation received. According to Luger et al. (2017), tidal heating of the four innermost planets is expected to be greater than Earth's inner heat flux, and Quick et al. (2020) note that tidal heating in the outer planets could be comparable to that in the Solar System bodies Europa, Enceladus, and Triton.
Tidal heating could influence temperatures of the night sides and cold areas where volatiles may be trapped, and gases are expected to accumulate; it would also influence the properties of any subsurface oceans where volcanism and hydrothermal venting[x] could occur. It may be sufficient to melt the mantles of the four innermost planets, in whole or in part, potentially forming subsurface magma oceans. Tidal heating would increase degassing[y] from the mantle and facilitate the establishment of atmospheres around the planets. Intense tides could fracture the planets' crusts, inducing earthquakes, even if they are not sufficiently strong to trigger the onset of plate tectonics. The TRAPPIST-1 planets may have substantial seismic activity due to tidal effects. Tides can also occur in the planetary atmospheres.
Skies and impact of stellar lightEdit
Relative sizes, densities, and illumination of the TRAPPIST-1 system compared to the inner planets of the Solar System
Because most of TRAPPIST-1's radiation is in the infrared region, there may be very little visible light on the planets' surfaces; Amaury Triaud, one of the system's co-discoverers, said the skies would never be brighter than Earth's sky at sunset and only a little brighter than a night with a full moon. Ignoring atmospheric effects, illumination would be orange-red. All of the planets would be visible from each other and would, in many cases, appear larger than Earth's Moon in the sky of Earth; observers on TRAPPIST-1e, f and g, however, could never experience a total stellar eclipse. The star's long-wavelength radiation would be absorbed to a greater degree by water and carbon dioxide than sunlight on Earth; it would also be scattered less by the atmosphere and less reflected by ice, although the development of highly reflective hydrohalite ice may negate this effect. The same amount of radiation results in a warmer planet compared to Sun-like irradiation; more radiation would be absorbed by the planets' upper atmosphere than by the lower layers, making the atmosphere more stable and less prone to convection.
For a dim star like TRAPPIST-1, the habitable zone[z] is located closer to the star than for the Sun. Three or four planets might be located in the habitable zone; these include e, f, and g; or d, e, and f. As of 2017[update], this is the largest-known number of planets within the habitable zone of any known star or star system. The presence of liquid water on any of the planets depends on several other factors, such as albedo (reflectivity), the greenhouse effect, and the presence of an atmosphere. Surface conditions are difficult to constrain without better knowledge of the planets' atmospheres. A synchronously rotating planet might not entirely freeze over if it receives too little radiation from its star because the day-side could be sufficiently heated to halt the progress of glaciation. Other factors for the occurrence of liquid water include the presence of oceans and vegetation; the reflective properties of the land surface; the configuration of continents and oceans; the presence of clouds; and sea ice dynamics. The effects of volcanic activity may extend the system's habitable zone to TRAPPIST-1h.
Intense extreme ultraviolet (XUV) and X-ray radiation can split water into its component parts of hydrogen and oxygen, and heat the upper atmosphere until they escape from the planet. This was particularly important early in the star's history, when radiation was more intense and could have heated every planet's water to its boiling point. This process is believed to have removed water from Venus. In the case of TRAPPIST-1, different studies with different assumptions on the kinetics, energetics, and XUV emissions have come to different conclusions on whether any TRAPPIST-1 planet may retain substantial amounts of water. Because the planets are most likely synchronized to their host star, any water present could become trapped on the planets' night sides and would be unavailable to support life unless heat transport by the atmosphere or tidal heating are intense enough to melt ice.
No moons with a size comparable to Earth's have been detected in the TRAPPIST-1 system, and moons are unlikely in such a densely packed planetary system. This is because moons would likely be either destroyed by their planet's gravity after entering its Roche limit or stripped from the planet by leaving its Hill radius. While the TRAPPIST-1 planets appear in an analysis of potential exomoon hosts, they do not appear in the list of habitable-zone exoplanets that could host a moon for a substantial time. Despite these factors, it is possible the planets could host moons.
The TRAPPIST-1 planets are expected to be within the Alfvén surface of their host star, the area around the star within which any planet would directly magnetically interact with the corona of the star, possibly destabilising any atmosphere the planet has. Stellar energetic particles would not create a substantial radiation hazard for organisms on TRAPPIST-1 planets if atmospheres reached pressures of about 1 bar. Estimates of radiation fluxes have considerable uncertainties due to the lack of knowledge about the structure of TRAPPIST-1's magnetic field.Induction heating from the star's time-varying electrical and magnetic fields may occur on its planets but this would make no substantial contribution to their energy balance and is vastly exceeded by tidal heating.
The TRAPPIST-1 planets most likely formed further from the star and migrated inwards, although it is possible they formed in their current locations. According to Ormel et al. (2017), the planets formed when a streaming instability[aa] at the water-ice line gave rise to precursor bodies, which accumulated additional fragments and migrated inwards, eventually giving rise to planets. The migration may initially have been fast and later slowed, and tidal effects may have further influenced the formation processes. The distribution of the fragments would have controlled the final mass the planets, which would consist of approximately 10% water; which is consistent with inference from observations. Resonant chains like those of TRAPPIST-1 usually become unstable when the gas disk that gave rise to them dissipates, but in this case, the planets remained in resonance. The resonance may have been either present from the system's formation and was preserved when the planets simultaneously moved inwards, or it might have formed later when inward-migrating planets accumulated at the outer edge of the gas disk and interacted with each other. Inward-migrating planets would contain substantial amounts of water – too much for it to entirely escape – whereas planets that formed in their current location would most likely lose all water. According to Flock et al. (2019), the orbital distance of the innermost planet TRAPPIST-1b is consistent with the expected radius of an inward-moving planet around a star that was one order of magnitude brighter in the past, and with the cavity in the protoplanetary disc created by TRAPPIST-1's magnetic field. Alternatively, TRAPPIST-1h may have formed in or close to its current location.
The presence of additional bodies and planetesimals early in the system's history would have destabilised the TRAPPIST-1 resonance if the bodies were massive enough. Raymond et al. (2021) concluded the TRAPPIST-1 planets assembled in 1–2 million years, after which time little additional mass was accreted. This would limit any late delivery of water to the planets and also implies the planets cleared the neighbourhood[ab] of any additional material. The lack of giant impact events (the rapid formation of the planets would have quickly exhausted pre-planetary material) would help the planets preserve their volatile materials.
Due to a combination of high insolation, the greenhouse effect of water vapour atmospheres and remnant heat from the process of planet assembly, the TRAPPIST-1 planets would likely initially have had molten surfaces. Eventually the surfaces would cool until the magma oceans solidified, which may have taken between a few billions of years, or a few millions of years in the case of TRAPPIST-1b. The outer planets would then have become cold enough for water vapour to condense.
Potential planetary atmospheresEdit
Graph showing dips in brightness in TRAPPIST-1 star by the planet's transits or obstruction of starlight. Larger planets create deeper dips and further planets create longer dips.
As of 2020[update], there is no definitive evidence that any of the TRAPPIST-1 planets have an atmosphere,[ac] but atmospheres could be detected in the future. Several studies have simulated how various atmospheric scenarios would look to observers, and the chemical processes underpinning these atmospheric compositions. The visibility of an exoplanet and of its atmosphere scale with the inverse square of the radius of its host star.
Detection of individual components of the atmospheres – in particular CO2, ozone, and water – would also be possible, although different components would require different conditions and different numbers of transits. A contamination of the atmospheric signals through patterns in the stellar photosphere is an additional impediment to detection.
The existence of atmospheres around TRAPPIST-1's planets depends on the balance between the amount of atmosphere initially present, its rate of evaporation, and the rate at which it is built back up by meteorite impacts, incoming material from a protoplanetary disk, and outgassing and volcanic activity. Impact events may be particularly important in the outer planets because they can both add and remove volatiles; addition is likely dominant in the outermost planets where impact velocities are slower. While the properties of TRAPPIST-1 are unfavourable to the continued existence of atmospheres around its planets, the planets' formation conditions would give them large initial quantities of volatile materials, including oceans more than 100 times larger than Earth's. The outer planets are more likely to have atmospheres than the inner planets.
If the planets are tidally locked to TRAPPIST-1, surfaces that permanently face away from the star can cool sufficiently for any atmosphere to freeze out on the night side. This frozen-out atmosphere could be recycled through glacier-like flows to the day side with assistance from tidal or geothermal heating from below, or could be stirred by impact events. These processes could allow an atmosphere to persist. In a carbon dioxide (CO2) atmosphere, carbon-dioxide ice is denser than water ice, under which it tends to be buried. CO2-water compounds named clathrates[ad] can form. Additional complications are a potential runaway feedback loop between melting ice and evaporation, and the greenhouse effect.
Numerical modelling and observations constrain the properties of hypothetical atmospheres around TRAPPIST-1 planets:
Theoretical calculations and observations have ruled out the possibility the TRAPPIST-1 planets have hydrogen-rich or helium-rich atmospheres. Hydrogen-rich exospheres[ae] may be detectable but have not been reliably detected, except perhaps for TRAPPIST-1b and 1c by Bourrier et al. (2017).
Water-dominated atmospheres, while suggested by some density estimates, are improbable for the planets because they are expected to be unstable under the conditions around TRAPPIST-1, especially early in the star's life. The spectral properties of the planets imply they do not have a cloud-free, water-rich atmosphere.
Oxygen-dominated atmospheres can form when radiation splits water into hydrogen and oxygen, and the hydrogen escapes due to its lighter mass. The existence of such an atmosphere and its mass depends on the initial water mass, on whether the oxygen is dragged out of the atmosphere by escaping hydrogen and of the state of the planet's surface; a partially molten surface could absorb sufficient quantities of oxygen to remove an atmosphere.
Atmospheres formed by ammonia and/or methane near TRAPPIST-1 would be destroyed by the star's radiation at a sufficient rate to quickly remove an atmosphere. The rate at which ammonia or methane are produced, possibly by organisms, would have to be considerably larger than that on Earth to sustain such an atmosphere. It is, however, possible the development of organic hazes from ammonia or methane photolysis could shield the remaining molecules from degradation caused by radiation. Ducrot et al. (2020) interpreted observational data as implying methane-dominated atmospheres are unlikely around TRAPPIST-1 planets.
Nitrogen-dominated atmospheres are particularly unstable with respect to atmospheric escape, especially on the innermost planets, although the presence of CO2 may slow evaporation. Unless the TRAPPIST-1 planets initially contained far more nitrogen than Earth, they are unlikely to have retained such atmospheres.
CO2-dominated atmospheres escape slowly because CO2 effectively radiates away energy and thus does not readily reach escape velocity; on a synchronously rotating planet, however, CO2 can freeze out on the night side, especially if there are no other gases in the atmosphere. The decomposition of CO2 caused by radiation could yield substantial amounts of oxygen, carbon monoxide (CO), and ozone.
Theoretical modelling by Krissansen-Totton and Fortney (2022) suggests the inner planets most likely have, if any, oxygen-and-CO2-rich atmospheres. If the planets have an atmosphere, the amount of precipitation, its form and location would be determined by the presence and position of mountains and oceans, and the rotation period. Planets in the habitable zone are expected to have an atmospheric circulation regime resembling Earth's tropical regions with largely uniform temperatures. Whether greenhouse gases can accumulate on the outer TRAPPIST-1 planets in sufficient quantities to warm them to the melting point of water is controversial; on a synchronously rotating planet, CO2 could freeze and precipitate on the night side, and ammonia and methane would be destroyed by XUV radiation from TRAPPIST-1. Carbon dioxide freezing-out can occur only on the outermost planets unless special conditions are met, and other volatiles do not freeze out.
Observed brightness of the TRAPPIST-1 star, showing large variation in brightness. The graph displays dips, indicating the transit of exoplanets. The planet corresponding to the dips in brightness are plotted below with diamond markers.
The emission of extreme ultraviolet (XUV) radiation by a star has an important influence on the stability of its planets' atmospheres, their composition and the habitability of their surfaces. It can cause the ongoing removal of atmospheres from planets. XUV radiation-induced atmospheric escape has been observed on gas giants. M dwarfs emit large amounts of XUV radiation; TRAPPIST-1 and the Sun emit about the same amount of XUV radiation[af] and because TRAPPIST-1's planets are much closer to the star than the Sun's, they receive much more intense irradiation. TRAPPIST-1 has been emitting radiation for much longer than the Sun. The process of atmospheric escape has been modelled mainly in the context of hydrogen-rich atmospheres and little quantitative research has been done on those of other compositions such as water and CO2.
TRAPPIST-1 is moderately to highly active, and this may be an additional difficulty for the persistence of atmospheres and water on the planets:
Dwarfs of the spectral class M have intense flares; TRAPPIST-1 averages about 0.38 flares per day and four to six superflares[ag] per year. Such flares would have only small impacts on atmospheric temperatures but would substantially affect the stability and chemistry of atmospheres. According to Samara, Patsourakos and Georgoulis (2021), the TRAPPIST-1 planets are unlikely to be able to retain atmospheres against coronal mass ejections.
The stellar wind from TRAPPIST-1 may have a pressure 1,000 times larger than that of the Sun, which could destabilise atmospheres of the star's planets up to planet f. The pressure would push the wind deep into the atmospheres, facilitating loss of water and evaporation of the atmospheres. Stellar wind-driven escape in the Solar System is largely independent on planetary properties such as mass; stellar wind from TRAPPIST-1 could remove the atmospheres of its planets on a timescale of 100 million to 10 billion years.
Ohmic heating[ah] of the atmosphere of TRAPPIST-1e, f, and g amounts to 5–15 times the heating from XUV radiation; if the heat is effectively absorbed, it could destabilise the atmospheres.
The star's history also influences the atmospheres of its planets. Immediately after its formation, TRAPPIST-1 would have been in a pre-main-sequence state, which may have lasted between hundreds of millions and two billion years. While in this state, it would have been considerably brighter than it is today and the star's intense irradiation would have impacted the atmospheres of surrounding planets, vaporising all common volatiles such as ammonia, CO2, sulfur dioxide, and water. Thus, all of the system's planets would have been heated to a runaway greenhouse[ai] for at least part of their existence. The XUV radiation would have been even higher during the pre-main-sequence stage.
List of planetsEdit
Comparison of the orbits of the TRAPPIST-1 planets with the Solar System and Jupiter's moons
The TRAPPIST-1 system with distances to scale, compared with the Moon and Earth
TRAPPIST-1b has an average distance from its star of 0.0115 astronomical units (1,720,000 km) and orbits same in 1.51 Earth days. It is expected to be tidally locked to the star. The planet is outside the habitable zone; its expected irradiation is more than four times that of Earth. TRAPPIST-1b has a slightly larger measured diameter and mass than Earth but estimates of its density imply it does not exclusively consist of rock. Owing to its black-body temperature of 124 °C (397 K), TRAPPIST-1b may have had a runaway greenhouse effect similar to that of Venus; its atmosphere, if present, may be similarly deep, dense, and hot. Based on numerous climate models, the planet would have been desiccated by TRAPPIST-1's stellar wind and radiation; it could be quickly losing hydrogen and therefore any hydrogen-dominated atmosphere.[ak] Water, if any exists, could persist only in specific settings on the planet, whose surface temperature could be as high as 1,200 °C (1,470 K), making TRAPPIST-1b a candidate magma ocean planet.
TRAPPIST-1c has a semi-major axis of 0.0158 AU (2,360,000 km) and orbits its star every 2.42 Earth days. It is close enough to TRAPPIST-1 to be tidally locked and could have either no atmosphere or a thick, Venus-like one. TRAPPIST-1c is outside the habitable zone because it receives about twice as much stellar irradiation as Earth and thus either is or has been a runaway greenhouse. Based on numerous climate models, the planet would have been desiccated by TRAPPIST-1's stellar wind and radiation. TRAPPIST-1c could harbour water only in specific settings on its surface. It may be losing hydrogen at a rate of 1.4×107 g/s based on Hubble Space Telescope (HST) observations, although 2017 observations showed no escaping hydrogen.
TRAPPIST-1d has a semi-major axis of 0.022 AU (3,300,000 km) and an orbital period of 4.05 Earth days. It is more massive but less dense than Mars. Based on fluid dynamical arguments, TRAPPIST-1d is expected to have weak temperature gradients on its surface if it is tidally locked, and may have significantly different stratospheric dynamics than Earth. Numerous climate models suggest that the planet may or may not have been desiccated by TRAPPIST-1's stellar wind and radiation; density estimates, if confirmed, indicate it is not dense enough to consist solely of rock. The current state of TRAPPIST-1d depends on its rotation and climatic factors like cloud feedbacks;[al] it is close to the inner edge of the habitable zone, but the existence of liquid water or a runaway greenhouse effect that would render it uninhabitable is dependent on detailed atmospheric conditions. Water could persist in specific settings on the planet.
TRAPPIST-1e has a semi-major axis of 0.029 AU (4,300,000 km) and orbits its star every 6.10 Earth days. It is expected to have been in the habitable zone for a long time, assuming only orbital perturbations. It has density similar to Earth's. Based on numerous climate models, the planet is the most likely of the system to have retained its water, and the most likely to have liquid water for many climate states. A dedicated climate model project called TRAPPIST-1 Habitable Atmosphere Intercomparison (THAI) has been launched to study potential climate states of this planet. Based on HST observations of the Lyman-alpha radiation emissions, TRAPPIST-1e may be losing hydrogen at a rate of 0.6×107 g/s.
TRAPPIST-1e is in a comparable position within the habitable zone to Proxima Centauri b,[am] which also has an Earth-like density. TRAPPIST-1e could have retained masses of water equivalent to several of Earth's oceans. Moderate quantities of carbon dioxide could warm TRAPPIST-1e to temperatures adequate for liquid water to exist. Models of tidal effects on TRAPPIST-1e have been created.
TRAPPIST-1f has a semi-major axis of 0.038 AU (5,700,000 km) and orbits its star every 9.21 Earth days. It is expected to have been in the habitable zone for a long time, assuming only orbital perturbations. It is likely too distant from its host star to sustain liquid water, instead forming an entirely glaciated snowball planet. Moderate quantities of CO2 could warm TRAPPIST-1f to temperatures adequate for liquid water to exist. TRAPPIST-1f may have retained masses of water equivalent to several of Earth's oceans that could comprise up to half of the planet's mass; it could thus be an ocean planet.[an]
TRAPPIST-1g has a semi-major axis of 0.047 AU (7,000,000 km) and orbits its star every 12.4 Earth days. It is likely too distant from its host star to sustain liquid water, instead forming a snowball planet. Either moderate quantities of CO2 or internal heat from radioactive decay and tidal heating may warm its surface to above the melting point of water. TRAPPIST-1g may have retained masses of water equivalent to several of Earth's oceans; density estimates of the planet, if confirmed, indicate it is not dense enough to consist solely of rock. Up to half of its mass may be water.
TRAPPIST-1h has a semi-major axis of 0.062 astronomical units (9,300,000 km); it is the system's least massive planet and orbits its star every 18.9 Earth days. It is likely too distant from its host star to sustain liquid water and may be a snowball planet, or have a methane/nitrogen atmosphere resembling that of Titan. Large quantities of CO2, hydrogen or methane, or internal heat from radioactive decay and tidal heating, would be needed to warm TRAPPIST-1h to temperatures adequate for liquid water to exist. TRAPPIST-1h could have retained masses of water equivalent to several of Earth's oceans.
Life may be possible in the TRAPPIST-1 system, and the star's planets are considered a promising target for its detection. On the basis of atmospheric stability, TRAPPIST-1e is theoretically the planet most likely to harbour life; the probability that it does is considerably less than that of Earth. There are an array of factors at play:
Due to the multiple interacting planets, TRAPPIST-1 planets are expected to have intense tides. If oceans are present, the tides could: lead to alternate flooding and drying of coastal landscapes triggering chemical reactions conducive to the development of life; favour the evolution of biological rhythms such as the day-night cycle that otherwise would not develop in a synchronously rotating planet; mix oceans, thus supplying and redistributing nutrients; and stimulate periodic expansions of marine organisms similar to red tides on Earth.
TRAPPIST-1 may not produce sufficient quantities of radiation for photosynthesis to support an Earth-like biosphere. Mullan and Bais (2018) speculated that radiation from flares may increase the photosynthetic potential of TRAPPIST-1, but according to Lingam and Loeb (2019), the potential would still be small.
Due to the close proximity of the TRAPPIST-1 planets, it is possible rock-encased microorganisms ripped from one planet may arrive at another planet while still viable inside the rock, allowing life to spread between the planets if it originates on one.
Too much UV radiation from a star can sterilise the surface of a planet but too little may not allow the formation of chemical compounds that give rise to life. Inadequate production of hydroxyl radicals by low stellar-UV emission may allow gases such as carbon monoxide that are toxic to higher life to accumulate in the planets' atmospheres. The possibilities range from UV fluxes from TRAPPIST-1 being unlikely to be much larger than these of early Earth – even in the event that TRAPPIST-1's emissions of UV radiation are high – to being sufficient to sterilise the planets if they do not have protective atmospheres. As of 2020[update] it is unclear which effect would predominate around TRAPPIST-1, although observations with the Kepler Space Telescope and the Evryscope telescopes indicate the UV flux may be insufficient for both sterilisation and the formation of life.
The outer planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system could host subsurface oceans similar to those of Enceladus and Europa in the Solar System.Chemolithotrophy, the growth of organisms based on non-organic reduced compounds, could sustain life in such oceans. Very deep oceans may be inimical to the development of life.
The planets of the TRAPPIST-1 system may have enough water to completely submerge their surfaces. If so, this would have important effects on the possibilty of life developing on the planets, and on their climates.
In 2017, a search for technosignatures that would indicate the existence of past or present technology in the TRAPPIST-1 system found only signals coming from Earth. In less than two millennia, Earth will be transiting in front of the Sun from the viewpoint of TRAPPIST-1, making the detection of life on Earth from TRAPPIST-1 possible.
The observations of TRAPPIST-1 are considered among the most important research findings of the Spitzer Space Telescope. Observations by the Himalayan Chandra Telescope, the United Kingdom Infrared Telescope, and the Very Large Telescope complemented the findings by the TRAPPIST telescope. Since then, research has confirmed the existence of at least seven planets in the system, and their orbits have been constrained by measurements from the Spitzer and Kepler telescopes. Some news reports incorrectly attributed the discovery of the TRAPPIST-1 planets to NASA; the TRAPPIST project that led to their discovery received funding from both NASA and the European Research Council of the European Union (EU).
Public reaction and cultural impactEdit
Fictional TRAPPIST-1e tourism poster made by NASA
The discovery of the TRAPPIST-1 planets drew widespread attention in major world newspapers, social media, streaming television and websites. As of 2017[update], the discovery of TRAPPIST-1 led to the largest single-day web traffic to the NASA website. NASA started a public campaign on Twitter to find names for the planets, which drew numerous responses of varying seriousness, although the names of the planets will be decided by the International Astronomical Union. The dynamics of the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system have been represented as music, such as Tim Pyle's Trappist Transits, in Isolation's single Trappist-1 (A Space Anthem) and Leah Asher's piano work TRAPPIST-1. The alleged discovery of an SOS signal from TRAPPIST-1 was an April Fools prank by researchers at the High Energy Stereoscopic System in Namibia. In 2018, Aldo Spadon created a gicléedigital artwork named "TRAPPIST-1 Planetary System as seen from Space". A website was dedicated to the TRAPPIST-1 system.
Exoplanets are often featured in science-fiction works; books, comics and video games have featured the TRAPPIST-1 system, the earliest being The Terminator, a short story by Swiss author Laurence Suhner published in the academic journal that announced the system's discovery. At least one conference was organised to recognise works of fiction featuring TRAPPIST-1. The planets have been used as the basis of science education competitions and school projects. Websites offering TRAPPIST-1-like planets as settings of virtual reality simulations exist, such as the "Exoplanet Travel Bureau" and the "Exoplanets Excursion" – both by NASA. Scientific accuracy has been a point of discussion for such cultural depictions of TRAPPIST-1 planets.
TRAPPIST-1 has drawn intense scientific interest. Its planets are the most easily studied exoplanets within their star's habitable zone owing to their relative closeness, the small size of their host star, and because from Earth's perspective they frequently pass in front of their host star. Future observations with space-based observatories and ground-based facilities may allow insights into their properties such as density, atmospheres, and biosignatures.[ar] TRAPPIST-1 planets are considered an important observation target for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)[as] and other telescopes under construction. Together with the discovery of Proxima Centauri b, the discovery of the TRAPPIST-1 planets and the fact that three of the planets are within the habitable zone has led to an increase in studies on planetary habitability. The planets are considered prototypical for the research on habitability of M dwarfs. The star has been the subject of detailed studies of its various aspects, including the possible effects of vegetation on its planets, the possibility of the detection of oceans on its planets using starlight reflected off their surfaces, discussions of possible efforts to terraform its planets, and difficulties inhabitants of the planets would encounter with interstellar travel and with their discovering the law of gravitation.
The role EU funding played in the discovery of TRAPPIST-1 has been cited as an example of the importance of EU projects, and the involvement of a Moroccan observatory as an indication of the Arab world's role in science. The original discoverers were affiliated with universities spanning Africa, Europe, and North America, and the discovery of TRAPPIST-1 is considered to be an example of the importance of co-operation between observatories. It is also one of the major astronomical discoveries from Chilean observatories.
TRAPPIST-1 is too distant from Earth to be reached by humans with current or expected technology. Spacecraft mission designs using present-day rockets and gravity assists would need hundreds of millennia to reach TRAPPIST-1; even a theoretical interstellar probe travelling at the speed of light would need decades to reach the star. The speculative Breakthrough Starshot proposal for sending small, laser-accelerated, uncrewed probes would require around two centuries to reach TRAPPIST-1.
HD 10180, a star with at least six known planets, and three more exoplanet candidates
^A log(g) of 2.992 for the Earth indicates that TRAPPIST-1 has a surface gravity approximately 177 times stronger than Earth's.
^The celestial equator is the equator's projection into the sky.
^Based on parallax measurements; the parallax is the position of a celestial object with respect to other celestial objects for a given position of Earth. It can be used to infer the distance of the object from Earth.
^The movement of the star in the sky, relative to background stars.
^Red dwarfs include the spectral type M and K. Spectral types are used to categorise stars by their temperature.
^The effective temperature is the temperature a black body that emits the same amount of radiation would have.
^The solar cycle is the Sun's 11-year long period, during which solar output varies by about 0.1%.
^The photosphere is a thin layer at the surface of a star, where most of its light is produced.
^The main sequence is the longest stage of a star's lifespan, when it is fusing hydrogen.
^The chromosphere is an outer layer of a star.
^A coronal mass ejection is an eruption of coronal material to the outside of a star.
^Exoplanets are named in order of discovery as "b", "c" and so on; if multiple planets are discovered at once they are named in order of increasing orbital period. The term "TRAPPIST-1a" is used to refer to the star itself.
^One astronomical unit (AU) is the mean distance between the Earth and the Sun.
^The inner two planets' orbits may be circular, while the others could have a small eccentricity.
^A volatile is an element or compound with a low boiling point, such as ammonia, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen, sulfur dioxide or water.
^The composition of the mantle of rocky planets is typically approximated as a magnesium silicate.
^This causes one half of the planet to perpetually face the star in a permanent day and the other half perpetually face away from the star in a permanent night.
^Where a planet, rather than being a symmetric sphere, has a different radius for each of the three main axes.
^Tidal heating is heating induced by tides, which deform planets and heat them. This is particularly likely in systems with more than one planet when the planets interact with each other.
^Hydrothermal vents are hot springs that occur underwater, and are hypothesised to be places where life could originate.
^Degassing is the release of gases, which can end up forming an atmosphere, from the mantle or from magma.
^The habitable zone is the region around a star where temperatures are neither too hot nor too cold for the existence of liquid water; it is also called the "Goldilocks zone".
^A streaming instability is a process where interactions between gas and solid particles cause the latter to clump together in filaments. These filaments can give rise to the precursor bodies of planets.
^Bourrier et al. (2017) interpreted UV absorption data from the Hubble Space Telescope as implying the outer TRAPPIST-1 planets still have an atmosphere.
^A clathrate is a chemical compound where one compound, e.g. carbon dioxide, is trapped within a cage-like assembly of molecules from another compound such as water.
^The exosphere is the region of an atmosphere where density is so low that atoms or molecules no longer collide. It is formed by atmospheric escape and the presence of a hydrogen-rich exosphere implies the presence of water.
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