Ever since the announcement of the TRAPPIST 1 system of 7 earth like planets, the question on everyone’s mind is, “are these planets capable of harboring life?”
Just recently, the TRAPPIST 1 planetary system was discovered and with it the astronomy and scientific world went into a buzz but as the dust settles down, a big task ahead is figuring out just how life friendly these planets really are.
Due to the tight orbits of the seven planets, scientists believe that they are all tidally locked. Our moon too is tidally locked. This basically means that the planets always keep facing their host star showing the same face at all times. That is why we have a near side of the moon and a far side that is never visible to us.
Another factor yet to consider is just how much the gravitational tug of the star as well as the planets themselves would be heating up the insides of these worlds. Studies suggest that the planets could have very hot cores leading to volcanism and this is especially true for the innermost couple of planets. Regardless of the gravitational tugs and the tidal locking, the finding of these planets is a major step forward in the promise of extra-terrestrial life.
What however holds good with these planets is that they are all within the habitable zone. This is basically a thin orbit around a star where the temperature would be just perfect for water to exist in all its three states. Because these seven planets exist in this habitable zone, it is believed that with tidal locking some of them could potentially be habitable. The only question remains as to whether any of them have an atmosphere that can move the heat from the day to the night side. While this suggests a temperature gradient, this does not mean that life cannot exist.
However, a lot of the study at the moment is speculations based on previous research and observations. Until more data is available from the TRAPPIST-1 planets, nothing can become concrete. Several teams around the world now race to find the composition of these planets, some stress on the presence and absence of atmosphere with its specific composition. Only through detailed characterization will more answers on the possibility of life come forth. Unfortunately, such studies cannot be currently conducted simply because of the lack of tools. Until we can figure out whether oxygen and methane are present on these planets and what their concentration is, it will be a guess in the dark with respect to the possibility of life on TRAPPIST-1 planetary system.