TRAPPIST-1 could be twice older than our solar system

Eloi Lecerf
Agosto 13, 2017

In the Milky Way Galaxy, about 40 light years away, is a system of seven Earth-sized planets called Trappist-1.

Much has been said about the "ultra-cool dwarf star" that is hosting the planetary system, but the noise around it had sort of faded - until now. In comparison, our own solar system was formed around 4.5 billion years ago. However, the planets orbit closer to the sun than our planets and some might even have water.

"We really had no handle on the age of Trappist-1", said Adam Burgasser, an astrophysicist with the University of California, San Diego.

But, being so close to the star, the planets may have been subjected to high-energy radiation for billions of years, leading massive quantities of water up to the equivalent of an Earth ocean to evaporate from all but the two most distant.

Researchers now estimate the star at the heart of Trappist-1 is between 5.4 and 9.8 billion years old, spurring new questions on the orbit stability of the seven planets circling it, and the potential for life to have evolved in this time.

In a notable study, scientists have found that TRAPPIST-1, one of the most intriguing planetary systems is twice as old as our own solar system.

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At the time of its discovery earlier this year, scientists believed the TRAPPIST-1 system had to be at least 500 million-years-old. This could be a benchmark in exploring possibility of life outside earth as the age of its star plays pivotal role in supporting habitability.

The stars are relatively tame so frequent stellar activity in the form of solar flares would not make the planets less hospitable, as is the case with TRAPPIST-1.

The researchers investigated several other conditions, including the impact of the temperature on ecology and evolution, and the effects of ultraviolet radiation from the Trappist-1 star. Three of the seven planets are located within the star's habitable zone.

'Because of the onslaught by the star's radiation, our results suggest the atmosphere on planets in the Trappist-1 system would largely be destroyed, ' said Harvard professor Avi Loeb. "The chance that there's no life is probably very small at this point". Burgasser worked with Eric Mamajek, deputy program scientist for NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Program, to calculate TRAPPIST-1's age.

And, in the future, additional observations with NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and the James Webb Space Telescope could give further insight.

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