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Alien hunters get great news about nearby exoplanets

Published Aug 31st, 2017 10:12PM EDT
do aliens exist
Image: ESO

If you’ve been remaining hopeful that humanity will find evidence of extraterrestrial life within your lifetime, scientists at the Geneva Observatory have some extremely good news. A study of the nearby TRAPPIST-1 planetary system — you remember, it’s the one that scientists freaked out about earlier this year — has revealed that at least some of the planets probably have a significant amount of water, including the three worlds located within the star’s habitable zone.

We’ve learned a lot about the TRAPPIST-1 planets in a very short amount of time. First we were told that they were good candidates in the search for alien life, only to later find out that the ultraviolet radiation from the star probably destroyed the atmosphere and surface water of the planets before life could form. Now, it seems, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Observations using the Hubble’s Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph indicate that while the radiation from the star is indeed intense, it is likely that the innermost planets were the ones that were truly devastated by it. The outer bodies, which includes the three planets located in the star’s habitable “goldilocks zone,” are now thought to have held onto much of their life-sustaining water.

“The inner planets could have lost more than 20 Earth-oceans-worth of water during the last eight billion years,” the scientists explain. “However, the outer planets of the system — including the planets e, f and g which are in the habitable zone — should have lost much less water, suggesting that they could have retained some on their surfaces.”

Unfortunately, current technology doesn’t allow researchers to make any kind of definitive ruling on just how much water the planets still have, or the potential of that water to support life on a long timeline. For now, we’ll just have to wait and wonder.