Powerful particles and tugging tides may affect extraterrestrial life

phys.org | 2/18/2019 | Staff
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Since its discovery in 2016, planetary scientists have been excited about TRAPPIST-1, a system where seven Earth-sized rocky planets orbit a cool star. Three of the planets are in the habitable zone, the region of space where liquid water can flow on the planets' surfaces. But two new studies by scientists in the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory may lead astronomers to redefine the habitable zone for TRAPPIST-1.

The three planets in the habitable zone are likely facing a formidable opponent to life: high-energy particles spewed from the star. For the first time, Federico Fraschetti and a team of scientists from the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian have calculated how hard these particles are hitting the planets.

Hamish - Hay - Graduate - Student - Lunar

Meanwhile, Hamish Hay, a graduate student in the Lunar and Planatary Laboratory, has found that the gravitational tug-of-war the TRAPPIST-1 planets are playing with one another is raising tides on their surfaces, possibly driving volcanic activity or warming ice-insulated oceans on planets that are otherwise too cold to support life.

Both Fraschetti's paper and Hay's study, "Tides between TRAPPIST-1 planets," are recently published in the Astrophysical Journal.

System - Star - TRAPPIST-1A - Degrees - Fahrenheit

The system's star, TRAPPIST-1A, is smaller, less massive and 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than our 10,000-degree sun. It is also extremely active, meaning it emits huge amounts of high-energy protons – the same particles that cause auroras on Earth.

Fraschetti and his team simulated the journeys of these high-energy particles through the magnetic field of the star. They found that the fourth planet – the innermost of the worlds inside the TRAPPIST-1 habitable zone– may be experiencing a powerful bombardment of protons.

Flux - Particles - TRAPPIST-1 - System - Times

"The flux of these particles in the TRAPPIST-1 system can be up to 1 million times more than the particles flux on Earth," Fraschetti said.

This came as a surprise to the scientists, even though the planets...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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