Monday, September 25, 2017

The Trappist-1 System may NOT be Habitable

The Threatening Environment of the TRAPPIST-1 Planets



Recently, four additional Earth-mass planets were discovered orbiting the nearby ultracool M8 dwarf TRAPPIST-1, making a remarkable total of seven planets with equilibrium temperatures compatible with the presence of liquid water on their surface. Temperate terrestrial planets around an M-dwarf orbit close to their parent star, rendering their atmospheres vulnerable to erosion by the stellar wind and energetic electromagnetic and particle radiation. Here, we use state-of-the-art 3D magnetohydrodynamic models to simulate the wind around TRAPPIST-1 and study the conditions at each planetary orbit. All planets experience a stellar wind pressure between 103 and 105 times the solar wind pressure on Earth. All orbits pass through wind pressure changes of an order of magnitude and most planets spend a large fraction of their orbital period in the sub-Alfv\'enic regime. For plausible planetary magnetic field strengths, all magnetospheres are greatly compressed and undergo much more dynamic change than that of the Earth. The planetary magnetic fields connect with the stellar radial field over much of the planetary surface, allowing direct flow of stellar wind particles onto the planetary atmosphere. These conditions could result in strong atmospheric stripping and evaporation and should be taken into account for any realistic assessment of the evolution and habitability of the TRAPPIST-1 planets.

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