MIT researchers have identified exoplanets with conditions most suitable for life

The three rocky planets are about the sizes of Venus or Earth, and are in orbit around an ultracool dwarf star just 40 light years from Earth.


An international team of astronomers, from MIT, University of Liège in Belgium, and others have identified three exoplanets that are the best known candidates yet of hosting life outside the solar system. The three rocky planets are about the sizes of Venus or Earth, and are in orbit around an ultracool dwarf star just 40 light years from Earth. The distance is close enough for further and more detailed studies on the planets, and it is possible to find conclusive evidence of the existence or non existence of life on these planets within the span of a human life.

Julien de Wit, a postdoc in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, says "Now we have to investigate if they’re habitable. We will investigate what kind of atmosphere they have, and then will search for biomarkers and signs of life. We have facilities all over the globe and in space that are helping us, working from UV to radio, in all different wavelengths to tell us everything we want to know about this system. So many people will get to play with this"

The planets were discovered using the TRAPPIST (TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope) in Beligum. The ultracool dwarf star, which is a fraction of the size of the Sun, has now been designated as Trappist-1. The star is the size of Jupiter, and is significantly cooler than Earth. This means that the planets bask in just enough heat to keep water at liquid temperature, and the conditions are favorable to life as we know it on Earth.

The planets are not entirely Earth like though. Scientists have determined that the planets are tidally locked, which means that a hemisphere of the planet is permanently in either night or day. There are a total of five identified planets in the system, but the two innermost ones may be too hot to support life. However, researchers believe that the inner planets may have "sweet spots," regions on the surface that receive sun light but are not too hot for life.

 

 


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