First Atmospheric Observation of Earth-Sized Exoplanets Yields Fascinating Results
Scientists have identified two exoplanets just 39 light years from us as potentially Earth-like following an important study by scientists at MIT. Researchers made a historic first atmospheric observation of an Earth-size planet to identify the exoplanets as being rocky, and therefore potentially habitable.
The exoplanets orbit a star called Trappist-1. It is a cold, dim red star found about 39 light years away from Earth in the constellation of Aquarius. The ultracool dwarf star is believed to be not much larger in diameter than Jupiter and is roughly 2000 times dimmer than the Sun. These types of stars make up roughly 15% of all stars in the vicinity of the Sun, and scientists believe this type of star could be the place to look for extra-terrestrial life.
Using data gathered from Hubble, researchers at MIT were able to make the first atmospheric observation of an Earth-sized planet outside of our Solar System. The observations determined that both planets lacked the atmospheric qualities to be considered a gas dwarf (effectively a mini-Jupiter), and therefore could be inferred as rocky in nature.
Although we know that these planets are rocky, the density of their atmosphere remains unknown. This information is paramount for the question of habitability to be answered, since a rocky planet like Mercury with a very thin atmosphere is clearly not habitable. However, this data may take a little while to collect. It is expected scientists will have to wait until the James Webb Space Telescope is in operation, which is still a couple of years away. With the use of the revolutionary telescope, scientists will be able to characterise the atmospheres of Earth-like planets in extraordinary, unprecedented detail.
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