TRAPPIST-1 is an ultra-cool red dwarf star located 39.6 light-years from the Sun in the constellation Aquarius. Seven temperate terrestrial planets have been detected orbiting the star, a more significant number than detected in any other planetary system.
They are not officially named but referred to as a, b, c, d, e, f, g, and h. E, f, and g are considered to be within its habitable zone. The others could also be habitable as they may possess liquid water somewhere on their surface.
Up to six could be in the optimistic habitable zone (c, d, e, f, g, h). In November 2018, researchers determined that planet e is the most likely Earth-like ocean world.
And this is what the James Webb Space Telescope will let scientists know. Looking for the planets’ whimsy biosignature, JWST will gather proof for further study with habitability in mind. Detecting the presence of carbon dioxide is the easiest way to get there. But CO2 is not a biosignature. Neither is oxygen, hydrogen, or methane. Interaction between them or seasonal oscillations could be.
Alien Life On TRAPPIST-1 Exoplanets Is Possible
JWST can’t detect oxygen directly. So, it can’t reveal an oxygen-rich atmosphere. But it can identify processes consistent with an atmosphere, like collisions between oxygen molecules. If so, then that is most likely an oxygen-rich atmosphere.
Ground-based telescopes will complete JWST’s data with observations that the space telescope can’t make.
In an interview, Victoria Meadows, a professor of astronomy at the University of Washington and director of the Virtual Planetary Laboratory, pointed the importance of the JWST mission and also stated that “exoplanet science is massively interdisciplinary. Understanding the environment of these worlds requires considering orbit, composition, history, and host star – and requires the input of astronomers, geologists, atmospheric scientists, stellar scientists. It really takes a village to understand as a planet.”
In the interview, Victoria Meadows says that so far, the observations of TRAPPIST-1 were “non-detections.” That means that the scientist can’t tell if the exoplanets orbiting TRAPPIST-1 have an atmosphere or not. But there is hope that they have reservoirs, even more massive than Earth, that could create them.