Astronomers write it on Monday in the journal nature After extensive analysis with the Merry Measurement Instrument, which was developed in part in the Netherlands, on the James Webb Space Telescope. The high sensitivity of this instrument makes it possible for the first time to study the atmospheres of these distant worlds in detail at all.
‘With this experiment, Merry and James Webb have proven their value in researching planetary atmospheres,’ says astronomer Lukas Ellerbrock, who was not involved in the research.
The discovery has implications for the search for extraterrestrial life in the Trappist planet system, which is only 40 light-years from Earth. Because the system is cosmically close and astronomers have discovered seven rocky planets, including three within the so-called “habitable zone,” the Trappist system has long attracted the attention of astronomers.
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Describes George Van Hall De Volkskrant About astronomy, physics and space travel. He has published books on everything from the universe to the smallest building blocks of reality.
On the three worlds in the habitable zone, liquid water can flow to the surface, which is one of the conditions for extraterrestrial life. When the system was first discovered, NASA designed it travel posterEllerbroek says. The poster was a joke, but still: It shows interest in these seven rocky planets.
Although Trappist 1-c is not within that habitable zone, the new analysis may say something about the possibilities for the three planets within it. In March, it turned out that Trappist 1-b, the planet closest to the star, also has no atmosphere. This result was also achieved with Merry on James Webb.
That both planets have no carbon monoxide2The rich atmosphere, according to the researchers, increases the chance that the same will be true of planets in the habitable zone. On Earth, the atmosphere provides, among other things, the oxygen and pressure that makes the existence of liquid water possible. Thus, the chance of finding life on planets with little or no atmosphere is slim.
“Personally, I remain optimistic and very curious about what James Webb will soon discover among the other planets in the Trappist system,” says Ellerbroek. I understand the researchers’ analysis, but I don’t think you should jump to conclusions from the lack of atmosphere on these two planets alone. It is as if extraterrestrial astronomers, when they explore the solar system and see that Mercury has neither atmosphere nor water, conclude that the chance of life there is also slim.
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