‘Mini Federation Of Planets’: Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Targets Trappist-1 Exoplanets

A physics professor at the University of California told Congress last week that the recently discovered exoplanets in the TRAPPIST-1 system could potentially harbor intelligent life on one (or more) of its multiple habitable worlds. In testimony illuminating advances in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), Professor Adam Burgasser, a member of the team that discovered the seven Earth-sized exoplanets orbiting TRAPPIST-1, said that the detection and study of like planetary systems would be important in the hunt for alien life.

“This could be a mini federation of planets, if you will,” Burgasser told the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, Space reported last week. “We are using our Allen Telescope Array to look at the TRAPPIST-1 system and we … wait for planets to line up and then see if there’s any difference in the amount of radio radiation coming our way. Because at that point, you’re looking down a communication pipeline between these planets.”

Burgasser testified that it was the proximity of the TRAPPIST-1 planets to each other that made them prime candidates for study by the SETI Institute in its efforts to detect extraterrestrial life. The short distance between the TRAPPIST-1 planets could allow, if life were to emerge on one planet, to spread to the other planets via “seeding” by meteoroids. As the Inquisitr reported in March, the idea of alien life hopping from planet to planet — called panspermia — is entirely possible. And if intelligent life happened to develop there, it would likely colonize the nearby planets. Such scenarios are why SETI scientists are looking for communications transmitted between planets.

Darkness in TRAPPIST-1 system
Planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system may be close enough together for relatively quick colonization if intelligent life were to emerge there. {Image by Kseniia Vladimirovna/Shutterstock]

Burgasser noted that new telescopes set to go online in the next few years would likely usher in an “era of exoplanet exploration” that would “allow us to identify truly habitable worlds and possibly life beyond Earth” within the next five to 10 years.” He added, “These transformative advances, addressing one of humanity’s most persistent questions — ‘Are we alone?’— are fully achievable through a diverse portfolio of research programs led by U.S. scientists and supported by federal funding to NASA, [the National Science Foundation] and other science agencies.”

Burgasser was not alone in his testimony. Among the scientists presenting testimony was Seth Shostak, the senior astronomer at the SETI Institute, which searches for signs of artificial radio signals throughout the universe that might be the product of an alien civilization.

“This experiment will only succeed if we can look at about a million or so star systems,” Shostak told the House committee. “That would have taken thousands of years with the current technology. Thanks to improvements, mostly in computers, that is speeding up by orders of magnitude. Over next 20 years, we will be able to look at about a million other star systems.”

Shostak famously predicted in 2014 that extraterrestrial life would be discovered within two and a half decades. He said at the time, during a NASA symposium, that “ET” would be found in two dozen years.

“Our generation is the first in human history to know that there are worlds beyond our solar system. Will the next generation know whether life exists on those worlds?” Burgasser told the assembled congressmen. “We have the opportunity and the responsibility to continue our nation’s legacy of discovery so that our children and grandchildren can search for life in new ways.”

Concept model of TRAPPIST-1 and planets
If the planetary system of TRAPPIST-1 has inhabited worlds, they just might be in communication with each other, thus perhaps detectable to searchers like SETI. [Image by Angel Soler Gollonet/Shutterstock]

As for the possibility of the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system having more than one planet with life, a recent study found that living organisms could actually survive the meteoric impact, the dislodging of planetary material, the transit through irradiated space and the reentry into a neighboring planet’s atmosphere. The study also found that insulated life within the transfer material would have an optimal survival time of approximately 10 years.

[Featured Image by Katrevich Valeriy/Shutterstock]