NASA had everyone excited when they announced the discovery of a planetary system with seven Earth-sized planets around the star Trappist-1 last week, but noted astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has some bad news for the alien hunters out there. He says that Trappist-1, being a red dwarf, just might have blasted its train of worlds with its plasma and electromagnetic particles to the point of being uninhabitable.
Neil deGrasse Tyson, in speaking with TMZ via video chat, told the celebrity news outlet that although the discovery of the seven planets was great news, there was a “problem they did not tell you in the headlines” about the newly discovered exoplanets.
“Because the star is a dwarf — it’s small — it’s still generating energy and the like, but it’s not as hot as the Sun is. Red dwarf stars a hugely turbulent on their surface and they are spewing forth plasma particles at high speeds.
Tyson went to say that scientists do calculations of the “spewing,” which is known as solar winds in the Solar System. “This can ablate [process of removal through melting, vaporization, erosion, etc.]” — Tyson accompanies this explanation with a sweeping away motion of his hands — “a planet’s atmosphere, and so it is likely that any atmosphere these seven planets had have been completely stripped from them billions of years ago.”
Still, the scientist told TMZ that there was still a possibility that life might exist on the Trappist-1 planets.
Early excitement over the discovery of the planet, Proxima b, around the nearest stellar neighbor, Proxima Centauri, produced all sorts of speculation on whether or not there was a chance the planet might be habitable, what manner of alien life might thrive there, how long it might take to get there and how long it might take to detect and/or confirm the presence of life. But Proxima b also orbits a red dwarf star, which fires off, according to NASA, “torrents of X-ray and extreme ultraviolet radiation from superflares occurring roughly every two hours.” Its close proximity to its parent star (0.05 AU, where 1.0 AU — Astronomical Unit — would equal the distance between the Sun and the Earth) and the red dwarf’s age, along with the two-hour bombardments, suggest that life on Proxima b, at least as we understand it, could not survive.
Scientists from NASA concluded (per Wired) that the harsh X-ray and ultraviolet radiation slamming into the planet would dissipate any atmosphere like Earth’s and any oxygen in Planet b’s atmosphere would dissipate within 10 million years. That lack of oxygen would also contribute to the planet not having liquid water on its surface.
The work of the NASA scientists, which was published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters in early February, found that planets orbiting young red dwarfs would likely suffer similar fates.
Which is more bad news for future astronomical discoveries around red dwarf stars…
But Neil deGrasse Tyson was upbeat about future discoveries. He told TMZ that the discovery of seven exoplanets revolving around Trappist-1 gave scientists “confidence that there may be more planets than stars in the galaxy.”
And even though the chances of finding life on a Trappist-1 world, where new research suggests that the number of planets orbiting in the star’s habitable zone could be upgraded from three to four, might be exceeding slim to none, Tyson did leave alien hunters with the consolation of knowing that alien life, when (if?) eventually discovered, might not fit into the biological parameters that necessitate life on Earth.
“So how many possible ways exist for being alive comes the next question we should all be asking,” he said.
Which then reopens the door to the possibility of alien life on a Trappist-1 planet. Very alien life, as it were, but life.
And so the search for alien life continues…
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