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Scientists Identify The Possible Composition Of Planets In The TRAPPIST-1 System

11 June 2017, 9:15 am EDT By Steve Bowman Tech Times
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Researchers were able to determine the composition of all seven TRAPPIST-1 planets using simulations a supercomputer performed. It was discovered that TRAPPIST-1f was the least likely to support life, while TRAPPIST-1e was the most likely.  ( NASA )

TRAPPIST-1 is the name given to the seven-planet system orbiting a dwarf star almost 40 light years away from the Earth. Researchers and astronomers have been curious about this planetary system since it was first discovered in February this year.

While use of advanced technology allowed scientists to gather some information about the seven Earth-sized planets, it was particularly difficult to determine their composition. However, a University of Oklahoma student was able to find the likely composition of all the seven planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system.

TRAPPIST-1 Planets' Composition

Billy Quarles, a post-doctoral astrophysics researcher at University of Oklahoma, determined the possible compositions of the seven planets after thousands of simulations through the Pleiades Supercomputer, which the NASA High-End Computing Program provided.

Quarles' research revealed that six of the seven planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system had a similar composition to that of Earth. TRAPPIST-1f was the only exception, as the planet included 25 percent water. It was also determined that TRAPPIST-1e bore a striking resemblance to Earth and was the most-likely candidate in the planetary system to host extra-terrestrial life.

"The goal of exoplanetary astronomy is to find planets that are similar to Earth in composition and potentially habitable," Quarles shared.

Quarles collaborated with researchers E. Lopez, E.V. Quintana, J.E. Schleider, and T. Barclay from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Using a method known as photometric variation, scientists were able to understand each planet's mass. The radii for each of the seven TRAPPIST-1 planets were revealed from studying the eclipses. With the mass and the radius measurements, researchers were able to calculate the planets' density.

The Earth's density was then compared to the TRAPPIST-1 planets to determine the most likely composition of these planets.

Why TRAPPIST-1f Is Least Like Earth

Of all the seven planets in the system, TRAPPIST-1f has 25 percent of its mass as water. Furthermore, this planet is 70 percent the density of Earth but equal in size. Researchers believe that as TRAPPIST-1f's radius is so large, there is an immense amount of pressure on the planet, which most likely causes the water composition to turn into steam.

Quarles and the other astrophysicists believe that the steam would make the planet's temperatures extremely high and make TRAPPIST-1f unsuitable for any known life to exist.

Further studies would need to be undertaken to reach a better understanding of the TRAPPIST-1 planets' composition.

Since NASA announced the discovery of the seven planets in February, researchers have been scrambling to learn more about the TRAPPIST-1 system.

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