Updated Feb 6, 2018

TRAPPIST-1 planets rocky, and may hold water

An artist's impression of the TRAPPIST-1 system. Photo: NASA / JPL-Caltech

New measurements of several Earth-like planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system — located about 39 light-years away — suggest they are rocky and that some could have atmospheres that would allow life to survive there, ScienceNews reports.

Why it matters: The studies (here and here) will help researchers to set priorities for the James Webb Space Telescope — the Hubble Space Telescope's successor scheduled to launch next year and search for life on planets around other stars.

Per NASA, the seven TRAPPIST-1 planets are mostly made of rock, with some having more potential to hold water than others, depending on factors including their density and temperature. In the new studies:

  • Researchers made new mass measurements of planets in the system and found six may "have more life-friendly atmospheres," per Grossman.
  • Astronomers then looked for any indication of hydrogen around four of the planets — which they determine by observing the wavelength of light that can be seen as a planet moves in front of its star. Atmospheres rich in hydrogen can trap heat on a planet and make it uninhabitable. Three of the planets appear to not have hydrogen.
  • Yes but: "The new observations don’t necessarily mean the planets have atmospheres, much less ones that are good for life, says planetary scientist Stephen Kane of the University of California, Riverside. It’s still possible that the star’s radiation blew the planets’ atmospheres away earlier in their histories," writes Grossman.

Of note: The size and density of one of the planets and the amount of radiation it receives from its star are similar to that of Earth.

“This is really the cool thing: We have one planet which is very, very similar to the Earth,” researcher Simon Grimm from the University of Bern told ScienceNews. “That’s really nice.”

Go deeper: The new data confirms reports last year that some of the planets could hold water, possibly even 250 times more water than Earth's oceans, though that water may be in the form of atmospheric vapor or ice.

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In photos: Life in the era of coronavirus across the U.S.

Cellist Jodi Beder performs a daily concert on her front porch in Mount Rainier, Maryland, to help people passing by and her neighbors cope with the outbreak. Photo: Andrew Caballero-ReynoldsE/AFP via Getty Images;

The number of novel coronavirus cases in the U.S. has grown from one on Jan. 21 to over 312,000 by early Sunday, per Johns Hopkins.

The big picture: Roughly 3/4 of the American population is on lockdown. From practicing social distancing to the shutdown of non-essential businesses, here's how Americans are coping with the massive upheaval the outbreak has brought, in photos.

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of midnight ET: 1,202,827 — Total deaths: 64,771 — Total recoveries: 246,886Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of midnight ET: 312,076 — Total deaths: 8,496 — Total recoveries: 14,997Map.
  3. Public health latest: CDC launches national trackers and recommends face coverings in public. Federal government will cover costs of COVID-19 treatment for uninsured. The virus is hitting poor, minority communities harder and upending childbirth.
  4. 2020 latest: "We have no contingency plan," Trump said on the 2020 Republican National Convention. "We're having the convention at the end of August."
  5. Business updates: Restaurants step up for health care workers. Employees are pressuring companies to provide protections during coronavirus.
  6. Oil latest: Monday meeting among oil-producing countries to discuss supply curbs is reportedly being delayed amid tensions between Saudi Arabia and Russia.
  7. Education update: Many college-age students won't get coronavirus relief checks.
  8. 1 🏀 thing: The WNBA postpones start of training camps and season.
  9. What should I do? Pets, moving and personal health. Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  10. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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World coronavirus updates: Confirmed cases top 1.2 million

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

The number of novel coronavirus cases surpassed 1.2 million worldwide Saturday night, as Spain overtook Italy as the country with the most infections outside the U.S. The global death toll has surpassed 64,700, per Johns Hopkins data.

The latest: The United Kingdom's Queen Elizabeth II will speak in a televised address on the coronavirus Sunday of the "disruption that has brought grief to some, financial difficulties to many, and enormous changes to the daily lives of us all," per the BBC. The U.K. death toll rose 708 to 4,313 on Saturday — the fourth highest in the world.

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