Do all planets in the Trappist-1 system have life? Simulation finds it could have spread between them rapidly.
In February of 2017, scientists from NASA made one of the greatest discoveries in space exploration: Seven potentially habitable planets in a star system called Trappist-1, located around 40-light-years from Earth. Three of the seven planets have such ideal conditions that life may have already developed there.
According to researchers, if there is life on any of the alien worlds located in the Trappist-1 system, then it may not be alone. A new research paper has found that debris of asteroid or comet impacts could have transported early life from one planet to the other in the tightly-packed star system, located around 40 light-years from Earth.
Scientists note that organic material could have spread by collisions of asteroids or comets among the planets while protecting them from radiation and reentry.
The TRAPPIST-1 system is so far our best chance of finding alien life. Located around 40 light-years from Earth, this enigmatic star system features 7 planets that according to experts, may be home to alien lifeforms.
A study published in the astrophysical Journal Letters by scientists from the University of Chicago states that given the close distance of the Trappist-1 planets, life could have transferred between them in a matter of days.
As noted by scientists in the study, “With several short-period, Earth-mass planets in the habitable zone (HZ), the TRAPPIST-1 system potentially allows litho-panspermia to take place on very short timescales.”
“Frequent material exchange between adjacent planets in the tightly packed TRAPPIST-1 system appears likely,” said Krijt, the study’s lead author. “If any of those materials contained life, it’s possible they could inoculate another planet with life.”
Transferring life from one planet to the other
In order for alien life to spread across the Trappist-1 planets, an asteroid or comet would have to collide against one of the planets, launching larger debris into space, which could protect life from hazardous conditions in space.
Furthermore, scientists note that the material would have to be ejected fast enough to break away from the planet’s gravitational pull but not so fast that it would destroy the life form. The journey would have to be relatively short so the life form could survive.
To come to this conclusion, scientists from the University of Chicago ran several computer simulations for TRAPPIST-1 discovering that the process could happen over a period as short as 10 years.
“Given that tightly packed planetary systems are being detected more frequently, this research will make us rethink what we expect to find in terms of habitable planets and the transfer of life—not only in the TRAPPIST-1 system but elsewhere,” said Fred Ciesla, UChicago professor of geophysical sciences and a co-author of the paper.
“We should be thinking in terms of systems of planets as a whole, and how they interact, rather than in terms of individual planets.”
While scientists hope that there is life on one of the trappist-1 planets their masses—and their densities—are not clear.
More details about the alien worlds will come to light after NASA’s James Webb Telescope, which is due to launch in 2018 and is designed to identify the atmospheres—and signs of alien life—on distant worlds investigates them.
Sean Carey, manager of NASA’s Spitzer Science Center at Caltech, California, said at the time: “[We will] further refine our understanding of these planets so that the James Webb Space Telescope can follow up. More observations of the system are sure to reveal more secrets.”