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posted by charon on Thursday February 23 2017, @01:34PM   Printer-friendly
from the tentatively-named-Doc-Grumpy-Happy-Sleepy-Bashful-Sneezy-and-Dopey dept.

Astronomers have observed enough planetary transits to confirm the existence of seven "Earth-sized" exoplanets orbiting TRAPPIST-1, an ultra-cool (~2550 K) red dwarf star about 39.5 light years away. Three of the exoplanets are located inside the "habitable zone" of their parent star. These three orbit from 0.028 to 0.045 AU away from the star:

Astronomers using the TRAPPIST–South telescope at ESO's La Silla Observatory, the Very Large Telescope (VLT) at Paranal and the NASA Spitzer Space Telescope, as well as other telescopes around the world, have now confirmed the existence of at least seven small planets orbiting the cool red dwarf star TRAPPIST-1. All the planets, labelled TRAPPIST-1b, c, d, e, f, g and h in order of increasing distance from their parent star, have sizes similar to Earth.

The exoplanets are presumed to be tidally locked. The six closest to TRAPPIST-1 have been determined to be rocky, while the seventh, TRAPPIST-1h, requires additional observations to determine its characteristics due to its longer orbital period.

Mass estimates for the planets range from 0.41 Earth masses (M) to 1.38 M. Radii range from 0.76 Earth radii (R) to 1.13 R.

Spitzer, Hubble, and other telescopes will continue to make observations of the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system, but the best data will likely come from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which is scheduled to launch in late 2018. JWST will allow the atmospheres and temperatures of many exoplanets to be characterized, which will help to settle whether the "habitable zones" of red dwarf stars are actually hospitable.

Artist illustrations and data for the TRAPPIST-1 system compared to Mercury, Venus, Mars, and Earth.

Here's a website dedicated to the star.

Seven temperate terrestrial planets around the nearby ultracool dwarf star TRAPPIST-1 (DOI: 10.1038/nature21360) (DX)


Original Submission

Related Stories

Large Gas Giant or Small Brown Dwarf Discovered Near the Galactic Bulge Using Microlensing 8 comments

Scientists have used the Spitzer Space Telescope to find a possible exoplanet or brown dwarf candidate, OGLE-2016-BLG-1190Lb, around 22,000 light years away near the center of the Milky Way galaxy. Spitzer is currently using transit photometry and gravitational microlensing to find exoplanets, a use the telescope wasn't originally designed for. Spitzer recently discovered five of the seven exoplanets around TRAPPIST-1 using the transit photometry method.

OGLE-2016-BLG-1190Lb is likely to be the first exoplanet Spitzer has found in the Milky Way's Galactic bulge using gravitational microlensing. At an estimated 13.4 ± 0.9 Jupiter masses, the object is right near the deuterium burning limit, the boundary dividing large gas giants from brown dwarfs.

The paper explains the significance of the discovery:

The discovery of Spitzer microlensing planet OGLE-2016-BLG-1190Lb is remarkable in five different respects. First, it is the first planet in the Spitzer Galactic-distribution sample that likely lies in the Galactic bulge, which would break the trend from the three previous members of this sample. Second, it is precisely measured to be right at the edge of the brown dwarf desert. Since the existence of the brown dwarf desert is the signature of different formation mechanisms for stars and planets, the extremely close proximity of OGLE-2016-BLG-1190Lb to this desert raises the question of whether it is truly a "planet" (by formation mechanism) and therefore reacts back upon its role tracing the Galactic distribution of planets, just mentioned above. Third, it is the first planet to enter the Spitzer "blind" sample whose existence was recognized prior to its choice as a Spitzer target. This seeming contradiction was clearly anticipated by Yee et al. (2015b) when they established their protocols for the Galactic distribution experiment. The discovery therefore tests the well-defined, but intricate procedures devised by Yee et al. (2015b) to deal with this possibility. Fourth, it is the first planet (and indeed the first microlensing event) for which the well-known microlens-parallax degeneracy has been broken by observations from two satellites. Finally, it is the first microlensing planet for which a complete orbital solution has been attempted. While this attempt is not completely successful in that a one-dimensional degeneracy remains, it is an important benchmark on the road to such solutions.

Also at Newsweek and BGR.

OGLE-2016-BLG-1190Lb: First Spitzer Bulge Planet Lies Near the Planet/Brown-Dwarf Boundary

Related: Seven Earth-Sized Exoplanets, Including Three Potentially Habitable, Identified Around TRAPPIST-1
Scientists Improve Brown Dwarf Weather Forecasts


Original Submission

TRAPPIST-1 Older than Our Solar System 7 comments

TRAPPIST-1 was known to be at least 500 million years old. Now astronomers estimate it to be between 5.4 and 9.8 billion years old:

Scientists now have a good estimate for the age of one of the most intriguing planetary systems discovered to date– TRAPPIST-1, a system of seven Earth-size worlds orbiting an ultra-cool dwarf star about 40 light-years away. Researchers say in a new study that the TRAPPIST-1 star is quite old: between 5.4 and 9.8 billion years. This is up to twice as old as our own solar system, which formed some 4.5 billion years ago.

[...] At the time of its discovery, scientists believed the TRAPPIST-1 system had to be at least 500 million years old, since it takes stars of TRAPPIST-1's low mass (roughly 8 percent that of the Sun) roughly that long to contract to its minimum size, just a bit larger than the planet Jupiter. However, even this lower age limit was uncertain; in theory, the star could be almost as old as the universe itself. Are the orbits of this compact system of planets stable? Might life have enough time to evolve on any of these worlds?

Previously:
Seven Earth-Sized Exoplanets, Including Three Potentially Habitable, Identified Around TRAPPIST-1
TRAPPIST-1h Orbital Details Confirmed


Original Submission

Researchers Suffocate Hopes of Life Support in Red Dwarf "Habitable Zones" 2 comments

Astrophysicists have modeled the effects of red dwarf star flare activity on the atmospheres of orbiting exoplanets, and found that heavy gases including oxygen would be lost quickly, even in the so-called "habitable zone":

[When] the scientists accounted for superflares, their new model indicates the violent storms of young red dwarfs generate enough high-energy radiation to enable the escape of even oxygen and nitrogen – building blocks for life's essential molecules.

"The more X-ray and extreme ultraviolet energy there is, the more electrons are generated and the stronger the ion escape effect becomes," Glocer said. "This effect is very sensitive to the amount of energy the star emits, which means it must play a strong role in determining what is and is not a habitable planet."

Considering oxygen escape alone, the model estimates a young red dwarf could render a close-in exoplanet uninhabitable within a few tens to a hundred million years. The loss of both atmospheric hydrogen and oxygen would reduce and eliminate the planet's water supply before life would have a chance to develop.

"The results of this work could have profound implications for the atmospheric chemistry of these worlds," said Shawn Domagal-Goldman, a Goddard space scientist not involved with the study. "The team's conclusions will impact our ongoing studies of missions that would search for signs of life in the chemical composition of those atmospheres."

The research has obvious implications for exoplanets like Proxima Centauri b.

YouTube video (20 seconds).

How Hospitable Are Space Weather Affected Habitable Zones? The Role of Ion Escape (DOI: 10.3847/2041-8213/836/1/L3) (DX)


Original Submission

TRAPPIST-1h Orbital Details Confirmed 6 comments

Astronomers have confirmed the orbital period for the outermost known exoplanet orbiting TRAPPIST-1: TRAPPIST-1h:

Scientists using NASA's Kepler space telescope identified a regular pattern in the orbits of the planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system that confirmed suspected details about the orbit of its outermost and least understood planet, TRAPPIST-1h.

[...] Astronomers from the University of Washington have used data from the Kepler spacecraft to confirm that TRAPPIST-1h orbits its star every 19 days. At six million miles from its cool dwarf star, TRAPPIST-1h is located beyond the outer edge of the habitable zone, and is likely too cold for life as we know it. The amount of energy (per unit area) planet h receives from its star is comparable to what the dwarf planet Ceres, located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, gets from our sun.

[...] The team calculated six possible resonant periods for planet h that would not disrupt the stability of the system, but only one was not ruled out by additional data. The other five possibilities could have been observed in the Spitzer and ground-based data collected by the TRAPPIST team.

[...] TRAPPIST-1's seven-planet chain of resonances established a record among known planetary systems, the previous holders being the systems Kepler-80 and Kepler-223, each with four resonant planets.

Previously: Three New Earth-Like Planets Discovered Around an Ultra Cool Red Dwarf
Seven Earth-Sized Exoplanets, Including Three Potentially Habitable, Identified Around TRAPPIST-1
Powerful Solar Flares Found at TRAPPIST-1 Could Dim Chances for Life


Original Submission

Induction Heating Could Cause TRAPPIST-1 Exoplanets to Melt 6 comments

Star's magnetic field could turn habitable-zone planets into magma soup

[A] team of European researchers has identified something else that could have an immense effect on habitability: the star's magnetic field. Under the right conditions, planets close to a star will experience a strong but variable magnetic field, which can cause induction heating. In the case of one system with several habitable zone planets, the induction heating could be strong enough to convert them into oceans of magma.

[...] The European team behind the new report focused on M dwarf stars. Because these are small, relatively cool objects, their habitable zones are close to the star and well within the region where the star's magnetic field is quite strong. They also have magnetic fields that are strong to begin with, sometimes in the area of thousands of Gauss. The magnetic field of our Sun is typically 10 to 1,000 times weaker.

Not all M dwarfs rotate quickly enough for this to matter. Proxima Centauri, which hosts the closest known exoplanet, takes more than 80 days to complete a rotation. But there is a nearby M dwarf that completes a rotation in only three days: TRAPPIST-1, which hosts at least seven planets, three of them in the habitable zone. So, the team decided to model how much of an effect induction heating might have on these bodies.

[...] For TRAPPIST-1c, the third planet out from the star, induction heating reaches more than 60 percent of the heat released in the planet by radioactive decay. That's enough to melt the entire surface, turning it into a magma ocean in nearly all the different model conditions sampled. The same conditions are likely on TRAPPIST-1d, the one in the habitable zone, where induction heating can be above half the amount of heat released by radioactive decay.

Red dwarf exolife killer or a way to expand the habitable zone further out?

Magma oceans and enhanced volcanism on TRAPPIST-1 planets due to induction heating (DOI: 10.1038/s41550-017-0284-0) (DX)

Previously: Seven Earth-Sized Exoplanets, Including Three Potentially Habitable, Identified Around TRAPPIST-1
Powerful Solar Flares Found at TRAPPIST-1 Could Dim Chances for Life
TRAPPIST-1h Orbital Details Confirmed
TRAPPIST-1 Older than Our Solar System
Hubble Observations Suggest TRAPPIST-1 Exoplanets Could Have Water


Original Submission

Powerful Solar Flares Found at TRAPPIST-1 Could Dim Chances for Life 8 comments

The red dwarf strikes again with 42 observed solar flares. Back in February, NASA and ESO announced the discovery of three potentially habitable Earth-like exoplanets in the TRAPPIST-1 system. Astronomers analyzing data from the Kepler space telescope have observed energetic solar flares which they believe could make it less likely that the TRAPPIST-1 system could host life.

Frequent flaring in the TRAPPIST-1 system - unsuited for life? (arXiv:1703.10130)

Related: Probability of CME Impact on Exoplanets Orbiting M Dwarfs and Solar-like Stars (DOI: 10.3847/0004-637X/826/2/195) (DX)


Original Submission

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  • (Score: -1, Troll) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23 2017, @02:27PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23 2017, @02:27PM (#470703)

    Let's point some transmitters in that direction.

    Oh wait, that would be politically correct since as we know the earth is flat and roughly 6,000 years old, and the Bible doesn't say anything about these "Trappers." We need to stop this progressive madness. I'm sick of politically correct shit like "exo-planets." Yep. Yee haw.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23 2017, @02:40PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23 2017, @02:40PM (#470709)

      Hahah, you're funny.

      What I'm tired of is all of this talk of "earth like" or "potentially habitable" planets that we can't really verify, and don't have any way to get to (not in our life times). AND, all of the ridiculous news articles about this with "artists renditions" of these beautiful landscapes from these supposed planets. Oooh! Look at the pictures from that planet they found, it looks just like earth. I can't wait until we get there!

      This isn't science. It's a blatant attempt to get attention so they'll get more money to do star gazing. We have real problems right here we need to take care of first.

      • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23 2017, @02:47PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23 2017, @02:47PM (#470714)

        Its also not done by the actual scientists but those who translate the admittedly dry news of we discovered a planet that happens to be within the habitable zone to those of us who aren't astrophysicists. Its when it has to be dumbed down to fit within a newspaper for general consumption that extra crud is added, again not by scientists but copy editors. Nice try guys.

        • (Score: 5, Insightful) by GreatAuntAnesthesia on Thursday February 23 2017, @02:55PM

          by GreatAuntAnesthesia (3275) on Thursday February 23 2017, @02:55PM (#470715) Journal

          Wow, aren't you guys a bunch of killjoys?

          This IS exciting news. These exoplanets are almost ideal for further study: Their relative closeness ot Earth ("only" 39 LY), the smallness of the star, the short orbital periods (lots of transits), the fact that there are no less than THREE planets in the goldilcks zone, the number of planets and their gravitational interactions all help make the Trappist system a great candidate for further study. If we find life outside of this solar system, chances are good we'll find it here first.

          • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Thursday February 23 2017, @05:42PM

            by bob_super (1357) on Thursday February 23 2017, @05:42PM (#470787)

            Where's the "Grumpy" mod?

            It would only take a few hundred to a few thousand years to get a probe there, plus another 40 to get the data back. We should start planning now, because there ain't much else within reach after we're done trashing our only Goldilocks planet!

            • (Score: 1) by khallow on Thursday February 23 2017, @11:05PM

              by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday February 23 2017, @11:05PM (#470943) Journal
              Mars and Venus are Goldilocks planets too. We should at least trash them too before heading out with a few thousand years worth of beer in the trunk.
              • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Thursday February 23 2017, @11:15PM

                by bob_super (1357) on Thursday February 23 2017, @11:15PM (#470948)

                It's gonna take a lot of trashing the Earth to make Venus look hospitable by comparison...

                Old one: European beer is the best thing to carry on long trips, because you drink it once and turn it into American beer.

          • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23 2017, @06:31PM

            by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23 2017, @06:31PM (#470810)

            Study? Right!

            Can't really study it, can we? Can't get to it. Really, just a guess. Might be habitable, might not. Might have a tropical rain forest, might not.

            I'm all for science, but come on, this is getting ridiculous. Lets fix our home first. Focus some scientific resources right here, right now. Figure out how to feed the starving masses, produce energy that's clean and inexpensive, better medical care, etc.

            • (Score: 3, Insightful) by maxwell demon on Thursday February 23 2017, @07:39PM

              by maxwell demon (1608) Subscriber Badge on Thursday February 23 2017, @07:39PM (#470849) Journal

              Can't really study it, can we?

              Yes, we can. There's a lot of information you can get just from analyzing the light spectrum when the planet passes in front of the star. For example, you can figure out the composition of the atmosphere. And if the atmosphere contains a larger percentage of oxygen, it has an extremely high probability of having life.

              --
              The Tao of math: The numbers you can count are not the real numbers.
              • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23 2017, @08:10PM

                by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23 2017, @08:10PM (#470871)

                If we can never get there, how are you going to verify.

                Too many hypotheticals for me.

                • (Score: 2) by maxwell demon on Thursday February 23 2017, @10:17PM

                  by maxwell demon (1608) Subscriber Badge on Thursday February 23 2017, @10:17PM (#470927) Journal

                  Then you probably also doubt that there is helium in the sun, because nobody ever took a gas probe from the sun and checked that it really contained helium atoms, right?

                  --
                  The Tao of math: The numbers you can count are not the real numbers.
            • (Score: 2) by takyon on Friday February 24 2017, @01:22AM

              by takyon (881) <takyonNO@SPAMsoylentnews.org> on Friday February 24 2017, @01:22AM (#470982) Journal

              The James Webb Space Telescope can study it in 2019.

              NASA research has led to medical advances. NASA has an annual publication showing off benefits of their research called Spinoff [nasa.gov].

              A small amount of resources is spent on space travel. Hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty and into the middle class in recent decades. Starvation is not a problem of lacking food right now, it's a problem of distributing food, usually in places undergoing a war. If you want to fix starvation, have fun fixing places like Syria or South Sudan. NASA researches energy technologies and sees obvious benefits from improved solar and practical nuclear fusion. Medical care/research has loads of money thrown into it already, but we'll see a huge decline in costs once preventative regenerative medicine takes off.

              --
              [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
              • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 24 2017, @04:58AM

                by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 24 2017, @04:58AM (#471014)

                It surreal to see a crowd saying 'India should stick to cleaning latrines before trying space tech' turn into 'USA should stick to solving real world problems before trying space tech' in less than a decade.

                • (Score: 2) by takyon on Friday February 24 2017, @05:46AM

                  by takyon (881) <takyonNO@SPAMsoylentnews.org> on Friday February 24 2017, @05:46AM (#471017) Journal

                  And which crowd is that? The ACs flinging their own poo at NASA have a fairly ephemeral sense of community by nature and don't represent the majority opinion here.

                  On the (3 comment) Indian space mission article, nobody said that India should not operate a space program. ISRO has done its work on the cheap, and its Mars mission was successful on the first attempt.

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          • (Score: 2) by c0lo on Friday February 24 2017, @12:05AM

            by c0lo (156) Subscriber Badge on Friday February 24 2017, @12:05AM (#470965)

            If we find life outside of this solar system, chances are good we'll find it here first.

            Come to that, slim chances, I'd say.

            With a temperature of 2550K at the surface, the emission spectrum of TRAPPIST-1 will be too weak in UV - one would need other forms of energy to (e.g.) break down the nitrogen molecule to make proteins.
            The small mass of the star cause the planets to be close one to the other, slim chances for moons (thus significant tides).
            BTW, I read that all 7 are very likely tidaly locked [wikipedia.org] - another major obstacle for life to appear.

            • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Friday February 24 2017, @02:29AM

              by bob_super (1357) on Friday February 24 2017, @02:29AM (#470992)

              On the other hand, given their proximity and their insanely fast orbits, living on one of these has to be quite a show.

              If it's even remotely habitable, we can send life there. Bacteria and simple plants are a lot more resilient and less needy than us.

              Finding life when we get there would be a mess. We really don't have a great track record of handling existing lifeforms when we get somewhere new.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23 2017, @03:25PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23 2017, @03:25PM (#470725)

        GP here. I was being too cynical. I'm enjoying a nice cup of tea, earl grey, hot right now. I agree that the "artist renditions" are completely useless. I was looking at one and thought, "You've painted an Arctic iceberg with three moon-like objects in the sky instead of one. Yay."

        There are two primary things that have me quite excited at this. Maybe, if I may be optimistic this time instead of cynical.

        First, three of those planets are in the habitable zone. Those are workable odds for life that may even have a chance of evolving to some complexity (and might we hope intelligence) on at least one of those planets. iirc the local system here also has three planets in the habitable zone.

        Second, it's only 40 ly away. That's very accessible compared to many other places. Sure there's the Star Trek fantasy of sending people out there and various other scenarios involving hibernation or what-have-you. In reality, even a robotic probe would probably be out of the question since there's no way we know of right now to even get something to 0.1c. Clearly we can't do much with it as far as actually going there is concerned, but on the off chance that on one of those planets there is intelligent life....

        My main doubt about humans ever being able to make meaningful contact with another intelligent species are the time-distances involved. I have no confidence that humanity would be capable of sending a signal to a good-looking planet say 400 ly away and still having a civilization in power capable of receiving a reply at least 800 years in the future. (That also assumes that at exactly 400 years from now, there's a civilization in power on one of those planets that's also capable of receiving and interpreting this signal and replying.) Add in some fudge factors and a project like that would need to last centuries.

        Being 40 ly away, assuming there is an intelligent technological civilization over there, means that it may be possible to actually contact them, receive a reply, and maybe have a couple more good rounds within the average life expectancy of a human civilization (which I guesstimate at about 300-400 years before collapse depending on how you measure things).

        tl;dr I see good reasons to be excited here even if we can't physically go there. Maybe there's no intelligent life there. Who knows. But, and I'll be dead before physics would permit me to ever know, if....

        (P.S. Didn't explain in my post above but I would like to propose that if there is intelligent life out there, we call them Trappers. It's simple and catchy.)

        • (Score: 5, Insightful) by GreatAuntAnesthesia on Thursday February 23 2017, @04:25PM

          by GreatAuntAnesthesia (3275) on Thursday February 23 2017, @04:25PM (#470756) Journal

          > (That also assumes that at exactly 400 years from now, there's a civilization in power on one of those planets that's also capable of receiving and interpreting this signal and replying.

          One of the quirks of the vastness of cosmological time, is that if we find intelligent life out there capable of receiving our signals, it will almost certainly be REALLY intelligent life. It's simple statistics:
          Current estimates date the first ever homo sapiens to about 200000 years ago, give or take a Tuesday afternoon or two. We only developed the technology to detect and decode radio signals in the last hundred years, hundred and fifty if you're feeling generous. In other words, for over 99.9% of our time on Earth, this planet has been uninhabitted as far as the rest of the galaxy is concerned.

          Of course, that's just the past. Human history extends into the future as well (we hope). Possibly far into the future. Let's assume that if we don't somehow extinct ourselves / knock ourselves back into the iron age in the next couple hundred years, we will master all kinds of exciting new technologies (clean energy, closed loop recycling, advanced robotics, AI, space travel / colonisation, brain uploads, GNU-Hurd, whatever) that enable the sustainable, long-term survival of our civilisation into the indefinite future. In that case, you end up with a civilisational timeline that looks a bit like this, but even more exaggerated:

          {---------------------200000 years Banging rocks together--------------------}{*}{-------------------------------------Many many of centuries of post-scarcity utopian sc-fi future-------------------------------}

          Where the {*} represents the measly couple of hundred of years we currently inhabit, the period in which humanity raises itself up from a squabbling pre-industrial agrarian society to a persistent global / interplanetary civilisation. Pick a point at random on that line and 99.999% of the time and you are going to either encounter pre-industrial societies (no response from SETI signals, but keep an eye on them) or superadvanced Vorlons / Culture ("Oh hai, welcome to the galactic community"). The chances of finding a bunch of early-industrial Victorians or facebook-obsessed millenials at a comparable level of development to 2016 humanity is vanishingly small.

          Flipping this around then, and coming back parent's post: Assuming that civilisations on other planets develop like ours[1], we can be reasonably confident that any response to our SETI signals will almost certainly be from a civilisation that can wait 400 years for a reply.

          [1] Yeah it's a big assumption, but like all this SETI and exoplanet stuff, we can only work with what we know, and all we know about Life right now is based on a datapoint of exactly One life-sustaining planet.

          • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23 2017, @05:43PM

            by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23 2017, @05:43PM (#470788)

            we will master all kinds of exciting new technologies

            We won't be more intelligent for having done so. More knowledgeable, yes.

          • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Thursday February 23 2017, @05:52PM

            by bob_super (1357) on Thursday February 23 2017, @05:52PM (#470790)

            > for over 99.9% of our time on Earth, this planet has been uninhabitted as far as the rest of the galaxy is concerned.

            Technocentric mindset, man. The Aliens, man, they can feel our auras, man. We radiate crummy Karma like crazy, man. That's why they're hiding from us, and you need another puff to commune with them, man.

        • (Score: 2) by takyon on Thursday February 23 2017, @09:57PM

          by takyon (881) <takyonNO@SPAMsoylentnews.org> on Thursday February 23 2017, @09:57PM (#470915) Journal

          The TRAPPIST-1 system might be a poor choice to look for intelligent life because the star is "at least 500 million years old". That line from Wikipedia seems to be based on this paper [arxiv.org]. I guess that is based on the low temperature of the "ultra-cool" red dwarfs requiring at the least 500 million years of cooling, so there is no upper bound on the age given. 500 million years is about as long as it supposedly took for life to form/seed on Earth (I believe the date has been pushed a bit earlier by recent research).

          The good news is that the James Webb Space Telescope should be able to give us more clarity about this system in just 2 years or so. It will launch in late 2018, and observations of this system will be a part of the "first wave" or whatever they're calling it. Throw in a few months to analyze the results and publish, and I'd expect to see JWST atmospheric data in mid-late 2019. Before that, there will be additional observations using Spitzer and increased interest in the system at observatories around the world.

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      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23 2017, @05:59PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23 2017, @05:59PM (#470794)

        Verify schmerify, potentially habitable will do. If we stay where we are we're doomed. The mutant star goat is coming!

      • (Score: 2) by takyon on Thursday February 23 2017, @06:34PM

        by takyon (881) <takyonNO@SPAMsoylentnews.org> on Thursday February 23 2017, @06:34PM (#470812) Journal

        "potentially habitable" planets that we can't really verify

        It's called the James Webb Space Telescope.

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  • (Score: 4, Informative) by aim on Thursday February 23 2017, @03:00PM

    by aim (6322) on Thursday February 23 2017, @03:00PM (#470718)

    In case you're interested in the hardware used: http://www.trappist.ulg.ac.be/cms/c_3313473/en/trappist-eq-trappist-south [ulg.ac.be]

    It's a nice 60cm RC (Ritchey-Chretien, same type as Hubble) telescope with a focal length of 4.8m (at f/8), on a heavy german equatorial mount.

    The 'scope alone seems to be close to 70kEUR, around 26kEUR for the mount. I found a reference at close to 40kUSD for the camera. It sure is nice equipment, but not for the normal amateur astronomer...

    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by Unixnut on Thursday February 23 2017, @03:21PM

      by Unixnut (5779) on Thursday February 23 2017, @03:21PM (#470724)

      Very interesting link, thanks for sharing.

      And the unsung OS providing a glimpse into another solar system? Microsoft Windows XP Pro!

      Not sure how to take that, if you have to use windows, then XP/2000 is pretty much the peak of Microsoft's work. Would have nice if it was an open source OS, but whatever works (and runs their software).

      However MS doesn't really support it anymore. I just hope it is airgapped if nothing else. Otherwise it is discovering amazing worlds by day, and DDOSing you at night while sending you v1agra emails.

      • (Score: 1, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23 2017, @05:26PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23 2017, @05:26PM (#470779)

        Not sure how to take that, if you have to use windows, then XP/2000 is pretty much the peak of Microsoft's work. Would have nice if it was an open source OS, but whatever works (and runs their software).

        A few weeks ago I participated in a small (20~30 people from ~10 countries) symposium about near-Earth space science at my university.

        Looking around the room, I noticed a distinct lack of those shiny Apple logos that I usually see everywhere else. There was only one Apple laptop in the room, and it belonged to a Master's student. Everyone else, every single researcher, professor or PhD student seemed to be running Windows -- me included.

        To give you an idea how weird that was to see around here, in my lab there are 10 people, undergrad, Master's, and PhD students, plus professor, and everyone but me has an Apple laptop. From what I've seen around, that sample is representative. At least we all use Linux on our desktop machines :)

  • (Score: 5, Informative) by richtopia on Thursday February 23 2017, @03:06PM

    by richtopia (3160) on Thursday February 23 2017, @03:06PM (#470719) Homepage Journal

    Most important impact of the discovery: A new travel poster from JPL (and a new desktop background for my laptop)!

    http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/visions-of-the-future/ [nasa.gov]

    • (Score: 3, Funny) by inertnet on Thursday February 23 2017, @04:06PM

      by inertnet (4071) on Thursday February 23 2017, @04:06PM (#470741)

      I don't know if many Americans will get the references here. Belgians are involved in this project. Trappist is a kind of beer in Belgium, hop is an ingredient.

      Actually trappist refers to the monks that brew the beer, so it's not really a kind of beer. Belgium still has many kinds of beer, whereas in most countries just a few big brands are left.

      My first thought when I read the news yesterday was that they're really looking for liquid beer instead of water on those planets. It would make them more habitable for Belgian people.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23 2017, @05:34PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23 2017, @05:34PM (#470781)

        I'm a bit few countries south from Belgium, and I've never heard of Trappist beer. My first (and only) association was... Trappist cheese. [wikipedia.org]

        Those Trappist monks seem to be quite awesome.

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23 2017, @06:35PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23 2017, @06:35PM (#470813)

          Trappist Ale. Vow of silence. And everyone knows there is no such country as Belgium. Belgium does not exist! [zapatopi.net]

        • (Score: 2) by inertnet on Thursday February 23 2017, @08:26PM

          by inertnet (4071) on Thursday February 23 2017, @08:26PM (#470877)

          If you can get your hands on it, try Westmalle Tripel. One of the best trappist beers in the world in my opinion. But be moderate, it has 9 to 10% alcohol. And don't pour the beer dregs (if any) into your glass, so you have to pour it gently.

    • (Score: 2) by butthurt on Thursday February 23 2017, @09:22PM

      by butthurt (6141) on Thursday February 23 2017, @09:22PM (#470896) Journal

      for those without Javascript:

      Some 40 light-years from Earth, a planet called TRAPPIST-1e offers a heart-stopping view: brilliant objects in a red sky, looming like larger and smaller versions of our own moon. But these are no moons. They are Earth-sized planets in a spectacular planetary system outside our own. These seven rocky worlds huddle around their small, dim, red star, like a family around a campfire. Any of them could harbor liquid water, but the planet shown here, fourth from the TRAPPIST-1 star, is in the habitable zone, the area around the star where liquid water is most likely to be detected. This system was revealed by the TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope (TRAPPIST) and NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. The planets are also excellent targets for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. Take a planet-hopping excursion through the TRAPPIST-1 system.

      › Download printable version (48MB PDF File) [nasa.gov]

      › Download high resolution version (287MB TIFF File) [nasa.gov]

      Download all posters at the highest printing resolution and please make sure to review the JPL Image Use Policy.

      › Download all here. (675MB) [nasa.gov]

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23 2017, @06:56PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23 2017, @06:56PM (#470822)

    The inner edge of the HZ is the distance where a runaway greenhouse effect vaporizes the whole water reservoir and,[9] as a second effect, induces the photodissociation of water vapor and the loss of hydrogen to space. The outer edge of the HZ is the distance from the star where adding more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere fails to keep the surface of the planet above the freezing point.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circumstellar_habitable_zone [wikipedia.org]

    This is concerning. Are they using that 0-dimensional stefan-boltzmann model like all the climate researchers teach?

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23 2017, @07:17PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23 2017, @07:17PM (#470841)

      It looks like up to at least 2013 they were...

      So far, most studies concerned with the determination of the limits
      of the habitable zone have used 1D calculations.

      https://arxiv.org/pdf/1303.7079 [arxiv.org]

    • (Score: 2) by Zz9zZ on Thursday February 23 2017, @07:41PM

      by Zz9zZ (1348) on Thursday February 23 2017, @07:41PM (#470854)

      They have to use some constraints, and given the wide range of possible planetary and stellar conditions it is probably better to use a basic limiting condition. The inner and outer zones are calculated on extreme conditions, thus they are more inclusive than exclusive.

      --
      ~Tilting at windmills~
  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23 2017, @07:41PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23 2017, @07:41PM (#470852)

    This news comes less than a week after this:

    The Trump administration aims to largely restrict NASA’s focus to its space missions and have it abandon climate change research

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/nasa-climate-change_us_58a91361e4b045cd34c2689e [huffingtonpost.com]

    I wonder if they are related, is this a test of how much hype astronomy can withstand?

    • (Score: 2) by takyon on Thursday February 23 2017, @09:45PM

      by takyon (881) <takyonNO@SPAMsoylentnews.org> on Thursday February 23 2017, @09:45PM (#470911) Journal

      As you can plainly see in the summary, Europe was very involved in this research. The observations were made before Trump came into office, and Spitzer was launched in 2003 during the Bush presidency. Also, this research is not considered "climate change research" or "Earth science research". There is no relation between this and that. And Trump has not made a move to stifle NASA's climate change/Earth science research just yet.

      --
      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]
  • (Score: 2) by looorg on Thursday February 23 2017, @08:54PM

    by looorg (578) on Thursday February 23 2017, @08:54PM (#470884)

    from the tentatively-named-Doc-Grumpy-Happy-Sleepy-Bashful-Sneezy-and-Dopey dept.

    If they actually named the planets that it would be hilarious! If only they had orbited a white star we could have named that Snow White. Disney could buy the naming rights ... poor aliens.

    Anyhow when looking at the comparative image with stats (artist illustrations and data ...) compared to earth all but two of them seem to have really low mass, but then so does Mars. They are all really close to their star. What I'm mostly intrested in tho is the orbit period - what are the implications of it only being about a week to two weeks for the habitable once (e,f and g) compared to ours, if any? Will seasons pass so fast you won't even know or be able to tell the difference if there even are any. What kind of effect will this have on the planets.

    • (Score: 4, Interesting) by takyon on Thursday February 23 2017, @09:39PM

      by takyon (881) <takyonNO@SPAMsoylentnews.org> on Thursday February 23 2017, @09:39PM (#470909) Journal

      The implications of the low orbital period, or more precisely, being close to a red dwarf star which could flare up and cause ion escape, are not too good:

      https://soylentnews.org/article.pl?sid=17/02/10/0547243 [soylentnews.org]

      http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.3847/2041-8213/836/1/L3 [iop.org]

      The good news is that the James Webb Space Telescope should shed some light on habitability because it will be able to give us a lot of information about the atmospheres. As opposed to Hubble which has only ruled out that 2 of the exoplanets in this system have atmospheres that are not dominated by hydrogen and helium.

      Note: TRAPPIST-1's age is supposed to be "at least 500 million years". That means that if ion escape is happening over hundreds of millions of years like that paper suggests, the process might not be finished yet.

      You mention seasons but that has to do with the rotation/tilt of the planet. These exoplanets are presumed to be tidally locked. The consensus seems to be that tidal locking is not a big issue for habitability. The atmosphere can circulate heat around the entirety of the planet, and there may be a temperate zone where day meets night (although even full daylight on some of these planets is estimated to look like dusk/dawn on Earth). Maybe tidal locking will actually improve habitability for those planets closest to the star (my speculation).

      One thing I was interested in but didn't note in the summary: these planets seem to be less dense than Earth. TRAPPIST-1e and f have radii comparable to Earth but with significantly lower mass. This could be an indication that they are very water rich... perhaps "water worlds" with no land?

      --
      [SIG] 10/28/2017: Soylent Upgrade v14 [soylentnews.org]