If the Hubble Space Telescope were a human being, it’d likely be the hardest working one in our universe. Thanks to the hard work of astronomers at the Hubble Space Telescope, we now have more information about the TRAPPIST-1 system of stars including a specific ring of planets that lie in what we know as a ‘habitable zone’. It is in this region that life could potentially have culminated, thanks to the integral temperatures needed for water to be hosted on the surface of the planet. The big news breaking out of NASA right now is that three of these planets within this zone have apparently possessed an atmosphere similar to Mars or Venus, which is to say that it is rocky and capable of potentially hosting life.
Astronomers at the Hubble Space Telescope used their tools in order to focus on finding hydrogen on the surface of the three aforementioned planets. These three planets, all considered exoplanets that fit the bill as being ‘Earth-sized’, are TRAPPIST-1d, TRAPPIST-1e, and TRAPPIST-1f. While NASA was unable to find a huge amount of hydrogen gas on the three planets, their research will continue. In fact, NASA is considering even expanding their range of research to include a fourth planet, the TRAPPIST-1g.
Hydrogen is an important barometer for the search for potential life on other planets. Hydrogen, a greenhouse gas, can be a signifier that a planet would have been too hot to host life — especially when found in abundance. You’ll find that hydrogen is incredibly dense in our giant gas-planets within our solar system, like Neptune. With a low hydrogen reading, the odds of life having ever existed on these planets increases by quite a bit. While it is encouraging to see that these planets lack the kind of hydrogen density of a gas giant, that still isn’t an assurance that they were always like this. NASA researchers warn to temper caution, saying that there is no way to tell exactly how much hydrogen was on the planet in years past.
Right now, scientists are doing what they can in order to get as much information as possible but it may not be until 2019 that we learn much more. In 2019, NASA will be launching the James Webb Space Telescope into space. This telescope will help NASA dive deeply into the components that comprise the TRAPPIST-1 planets with the hope being that potential life, or traces of past life, will be revealed.