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A Nearby Frozen Planet May Once Have Supported Life

It's just 40 light years away.

24/05/2017 11:33

A frozen planet, in the nearby Trappist-1 system may have been warm and habitable for hundreds of millions of years, say scientists.

Trappist-1 is a system that gained celebrity status a few months ago after it was discovered that it contained not one, but seven Earth-like planets.

NASA via Getty Images

The outermost of these planet, Trappist-1h, is currently an ice ball with an average surface temperature of minus 100C - but this may not always have been the case, the research suggests.

Astronomers made the discovery after studying the orbits of seven planets circling Trappist-1, a cool dwarf star 40 light years away in the constellation Aquarius.

The scientists found that the star’s planets were gravitationally linked in a complex dance known as “orbital resonance”, which was probably forged early in the life of the system.

Tracing back the history of Trappist-1h, they showed that the planet was likely to have spent several hundred million years in a much warmer state when its host star was younger and brighter.

Lead researcher Rodrigo Luger, a doctoral student at the University of Washington in the US, said: “We could therefore be looking at a planet that was once habitable and has since frozen over, which is amazing to contemplate and great for follow-up studies.”

The study, published in the journal Nature Astronomy, is based on data gathered by Nasa’s Kepler Space Telescope.

Three more of Trappist-1’s planets appear to lie within the star’s habitable zone, the orbital band within which temperatures are mild enough to permit liquid surface water and possibly life.

NASA’s Most Famous Images:

  • Edward H. White II, pilot of the Gemini 4 spacecraft, floats in the zero gravity of space with an earth limb backdrop circa November 1965.
  • Kinescope images of astronaut Commander Neil Armstrong in the Apollo 11 space shuttle during the space mission to land on the moon for the first time in history on July 20, 1969
  • The ascent stage of Orion, the Apollo 16 Lunar Module, lifts of from its descent stage to rendezvous with the Apollo 16 Command and Service Module, Casper, with astronaut Thomas Mattingly aboard in lunar orbit on 23rd April 1972.
  • Five NASA astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis look out overhead windows on the aft flight deck toward their counterparts aboard the Mir Space Station in March of 1996.
  • Photograph of the Milky Way Galaxy captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. Dated 2007.
  • The exhaust plume from space shuttle Atlantis is seen through the window of a Shuttle Training Aircraft (STA) as it launches from launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center July 8, 2011 in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
  • A United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket carrying NASA's first Orion deep space exploration craft sits on its launch pad as it is prepared for a 7:05 AM launch on December 4, 2014 in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
  • A military pilot sits in the cockpit of an X-15 experimental rocket aircraft, wearing an astronaut's spacesuit circa 1959.
  • Echo 1, a spherical balloon with a metalized skin, was launched by NASA on 12th August 1960. Once in orbit the balloon was inflated until it reached its intended diameter of 30 metres and it was then used as a reflector to bounce radio signals across the oceans.
  • Four views of Earth rising above the lunar horizon, photographed by the crew of the Apollo 10 Lunar Module, while in lunar orbit, May 1969.
  • American geologist and Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Hagan Schmitt stands next to the US flag on the surface of the moon, during a period of EVA (Extra-Vehicular Activity) at the Taurus-Littrow landing site, December 1972.
  • The space shuttle 'Enterprise' (NASA Orbiter Vehicle 101) makes its way along Rideout Road (Alabama State Route 255) to the Marshall Space Flight Center near Huntsville, Alabama, 15th March 1978.
  • A crowd of people, viewed from behind, watch the launch of the first NASA Space Shuttle mission (STS-1), with Columbia (OV-102) soaring up into the sky, leaving a trail of exhaust smoke, in the distance from the launchpad at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, USA, 12 April 1981.
  • Astronaut Bruce McCandless II photographed at his maximum distance (320 ft) from the Space Shuttle Challenger during the first untethered EVA, made possible by his nitrogen jet propelled backpack (Manned Manuevering Unit or MMU) in 1984.
  • Aerial shot of the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-41-D) as it takes off, leaving a trail of exhaust smoke, from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, USA, 30 August 1984.
  • Two technicians inside a Space Shuttle external tank, circa 1985.
  • An astronaut's bootprint leaves a mark on the lunar surface July 20, 1969 on the moon. The 30th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon mission is celebrated July 20, 1999.
  • Astronaut Charles Moss Duke, Jr. leaves a photograph of his family on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 16 lunar landing mission, 23rd April 1972.
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