JWST’s first photo of TRAPPIST-1 – one of the best candidates for finding life

JWST will not take photos like this illustration, sorry for the disappointment. Image credit: Dotted Yeti / Shutterstock.com

An amateur on Reddit created the first image of the TRAPPIST-1 system using data from JWST. Fans of exoplanets will be excited to hear that the JWST – a telescope so powerful that Hubble makes it look as if someone has smeared their thumbs on the eyepiece – has already gotten a long, first look at the TRAPPIST-1 system.

Using publicly available data from JWST, Redditor arizonaskies2022 was able to piece together the first image of the star, likely while passing through one of its planets, although this has yet to be confirmed.

“Both images are public raw data files that I found and downloaded from the MAST website,” explained Arizonaskies2022 on the JWST subreddit. “I just did a little manipulation and neither of the photos got cropped just a bit of stretch and color.”

Go here to get a better look.

TRAPPIST-1 is exciting to astronomers for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it has seven roughly Earth-sized planets orbiting it, and three in the habitable zone. The ultra-cool red dwarf is located 40 light-years away from us, which makes it easy to study, and it may even contain huge amounts of water.

Now that the JWST is up and pointed, we can learn about the planets’ atmospheres, if they have any at all.

“Our goal” is to find out if the TRAPPIST-1b, c, g and h planets have atmospheres or not, Olivia Lim told The Planetary Society, and to do that, we’ll try to detect the attributes of molecules such as carbon dioxide, water, and ozone in the transit spectra of those planets.”

The results of studies like this will not only tell us about TRAPPIST-1 and its planets, but can also help us make informed guesses about what other solar systems are out there, and the best places to look for life. For example, if we found that rocky planets close to a star were devoid of atmosphere, and were likely to be removed by the solar flares of their host stars, this could help us narrow down a position in the solar systems most likely to harbor life.

“This system provides an opportunity to test the concept of a habitable zone outside the solar system,” Jacob Lustig-Yaeger, a JWST researcher who will be observing TRAPPIST-1h, added to The Planetary Society.

“TRAPPIST-1 is very different from the Sun, the orbits of the planets are very close to it, and there are likely to be many surprises in our study of this system, and our efforts to understand these surprises will push the boundaries of planetary science.”

More data and images will likely come soon, from teams studying the system. Until then, this is our best look at an exceptional system, and one of the best candidates for finding life.

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