Hubble keeps hope alive for alien oceans

Red dwarf planet
This artist’s impression shows how the surface of a planet orbiting a red dwarf star may appear. The planet is in the habitable zone, so liquid water exists. (CFA Illustration / M. Weiss)

Do some of the Earth-sized planets around a dwarf star called TRAPPIST-1, just 40 light-years away, have liquid water? Newly reported findings from the Hubble Space Telescope give astrobiologists continued cause for hope.

The seven TRAPPIST-1 planets created a sensation in February because they’re the biggest assemblage of Earth-scale worlds known to exist in a single planetary system. What’s more, three of the planets – known by the letters e, f and g – are in an orbital region where scientists say water could exist in liquid form.

That’s thought to be a key condition for life as we know it, which is why the region is known as TRAPPIST-1’s “habitable zone.”

But is the water really there? To get at that question, astronomers used Hubble to study the amount of ultraviolet radiation received by the planets, and what that might be doing to their atmospheres.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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