The TRAPPIST-1 System has been discovered to contain seven rocky, Earth-like exoplanets. At least three of these appear in the famed “Goldilocks Zone” where temperatures are neither too hot nor too cold for liquid water to form. At first, however, scientists estimated the Sun-like star at only half a billion years old. Now, with some newly garnered information, these astronomers believe that the star at TRAPPIST-1 may be almost twice the age of our own.
Changing the Chance for Life
In a study recently published by The Astrophysical Journal, researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and the University of California, San Diego analyzed the currently available data. They determined that, at a minimum, the TRAPPIST-1 system is some 5.4 billion years old. That is a billion years older than our Sun. At a maximum, it could be 9.8 billion years old. This is almost twice the age of our solar system.
The discovery has multiple implications for the potential of life to develop. Half a billion years might have been too young for many beyond the simplest forms to evolve. However, a billion years older than us means that life would have had far more opportunities for catastrophic destruction.
It also means the planets have soaked up a billion more years of radiation from their host star. It is a fine balance between creating a durable, life-sustaining planet like earth, and a burned off the planet with minimal water or oxygen like Mars.
“If there is life on these planets,” said Adam Burgasser with the University of California, “I would speculate that it has to be hardy life because it has to be able to survive some potentially dire scenarios for billions of years.”
While this may change the potential for life to be on TRAPPIST-1 right now, it only serves to make the system more unique and interesting.
Image Source: JPL/NASA