When the James Webb Telescope begins operating in space in about five months’ time, astronomers will be eagerly waiting to look at the universe with a new set of eyes. The most exciting observations will be focused on answering the question: are we alone in the universe?
The telescope will target a unique planetary system that made headlines globally five years ago – the TRAPPIST-1 system. The system announced by NASA in 2017 will be a hot zone for research as the James Webb Telescope begins observing the universe in infrared light. The red dwarf star called TRAPPIST-1 is home to a tight-knit family of seven Earth-sized planets.
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“What kinds of planets can host alien life? The James Webb Space Telescope will help solve this question by looking at TRAPPIST-1, a system of seven rocky planets orbiting a faint star,” NASA said on the anniversary of the unique discovery. The system was discovered using telescopes on the ground and in space.
The TRAPPIST-1 system is one of the most studied planetary systems after our own Solar System and is just 40 light-years from Earth, with seven rocky exoplanets orbiting the dwarf star. NASA announced that three of these planets are firmly located in the habitable zone, the area around the parent star where a rocky planet is most likely to have liquid water.
Located nearly 235 trillion kilometers from us, all seven planets have the potential for water on their surface. A closer study of the seven planets suggested that some could harbor much more water than Earth’s oceans, in the form of atmospheric water vapor for the planets closest to their star, liquid water for others, and ice for those farther away.
A 2021 study further revealed that the TRAPPIST-1 planets are likely made of similar material but are different from Earth. This could mean that they all contain roughly the same proportion of materials believed to make up most rocky planets, such as iron, oxygen, magnesium and silicon.
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