back to article Oh bucket! Unpack the suitcases. TRAPPIST-1 planets too wet to support life

New research published in Nature Astronomy has poured, er, cold water on hopes that it may be possible to detect life on Earth-sized planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system. The planets might be just too wet. There was considerable excitement a year ago, when NASA's veteran Spitzer Space Telescope spotted seven Earth-sized planets …

  1. Dave 126 Silver badge

    Well, if we're to send a Generation Ship or Seed Ship to another system, it seems all we need is water, rock and energy to survive. We will have found some alternative to a magnetosphere,too, to protect us from those pesky waves and particles. A lush green planet is just a bonus.

    Still, by the time we're in a position to do that, we'll have had plenty of experience living in domes* or caves on Mars so we'll know if spending your whole life in a giant Centre Parcs will drive you nuts or not.

    *Buckminster Fuller on BBC's Horizon:

    1. cosmogoblin

      Buckminster Fuller likes geodesic domes? Who'd have thought?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So if they're only a bit wrong, it's perfectly possible it has oceans and land.

    How accurate are these guesses likely to be? 15% doesn't sound that much too much.

    1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      Oceans and land are a narrow window to aim at. You either end up with a water world or a hunk rock. (Remember earth is only a fraction of a percent of water. If you were looking at it through a telescope, you'd probably write off the water as an error and conclude it was as dry as mars.)

      They do give a graph in the paper. No amount of error is going to give f and g continents. b and c could get there. But, if their assumptions hold, the balance of probabilities is "land" is a long way down.

      1. Alister Silver badge

        (Remember earth is only a fraction of a percent of water. If you were looking at it through a telescope, you'd probably write off the water as an error and conclude it was as dry as mars.)

        Given that looking through a telescope at Earth you see a mostly green and blue planet, I doubt that you could conclude that.

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          I've read that if the Earth was scaled down to the size of a squash ball, it would, for all its troughs and mountains, be smoother than a squash ball.

        2. Demetrov

          ...and with Earth lit up like a disco ball from the cities light pollution.

          And if they can see that, you can do a specto and measure the man made products in the atmosphere, they may even wonder what the brief massive flashes that were our above ground nukes going off were (depending on light year distance and scattering).

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Perfect objective for a UK colonisation effort ...

    After all, if we can't complain about it being too wet then we can certainly complain about it being too cold, and it'll still be light years (ha!) ahead of a typical British summer.

    I can even think of a few people I'd like to send there, too.

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: Perfect objective for a UK colonisation effort ...

      There might be decent fishing, too.

      1. Rich 11 Silver badge

        Re: Perfect objective for a UK colonisation effort ...

        If there's any chance of helping UK fishermen at all, I think it only right that Michael Gove be packed off right now in a rocket to investigate.

    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Perfect objective for a UK colonisation effort ...

      I can hear a bunch of folks from the American west coast reacting to this news... "Surf's up!!!"

  4. hplasm

    So they are wet.

    The dolphins have to go somewhere.

    And as for the Dasorians and their ilk...

  5. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "And goodness, there is rather a lot of it."

    Well, that's the solution for the next alien invasion. Just tell them there's a planetful of ice water over at Trappist-whatever and we're saved.

  6. Winkypop Silver badge





    Send up some Space Monks!

    1. DropBear

      Re: Hmmmmm

      Wouldn't there be slight problems with those monks and long space travel, starting with the second, non-existent generation...?

  7. AceRimmer1980

    Just in time for the 500th anniversary of the Mayflower, colonists will depart for the gnarly surf planet.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      We loaded a lot of lunatics in that direction for several centuries. Can we start preparing the list for the ones we send over this time?

      1. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Yes, you did. And now see what has happened? Do you want to do that on planetary scale?

        1. Graham Marsden
          Thumb Up

          > Do you want to do that on planetary scale?

          The Golgafrinchams thought it would be a good idea...

  8. Mike Richards Silver badge

    Too wet to support life?

    Have they been to Aberystwyth?

    1. spold Silver badge

      Re: Too wet to support life?


      probably similar...except without the pubs unfortunately.

      Sounds like a bit of a wet weekend in Wales (I guess this phrase is from before they allowed the pubs to open on a Sunday).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Too wet to support life?

        Sounds like a bit of a wet weekend in Wales (I guess this phrase is from before they allowed the pubs to open on a Sunday).

        Nope - it applied equally well afterwards, too (I spent 8 years studying there, so ....)

  9. Solviva

    Didn't Kevin Costner visit one of these already a few years ago?

  10. Geoff May (no relation)

    Anyone wondering if that is Cachalot?

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Most of the life on this planet is in the oceans.

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      The vast majority of it viral particles.

    2. Dave 126 Silver badge

      It really depends upon what you define as life. That goes for both of you! :)

      Here's a discussion that was made earlier:

  12. deadlockvictim Silver badge


    Esteemed Author» To put that into context, if you were to wring out the Earth, you'd find that less than 0.7 per cent of our world is water.

    Really, fancy you forgetting that the Earth is not actually hollow (as is commonly believed) but actually filled up with water so that our Lizard Overlords have somewhere to rule from.

  13. joeldillon

    I've played Subnautica. Plenty of life on those planets, it just wants to eat you!

  14. Dr. G. Freeman

    Alien Sharks !

    Supply own lasers.

    1. FrankAlphaXII

      The lasers were so 20th century, they've opted for copper plasma cannons and railguns now.

  15. frank ly

    If you wait, 'romance' may come.

    "With a crushing lack of romance, scientists named the planets b, c, d, e, f, g and h."

    That's the standard astronomical convention for naming stellar/planetary systems. The parent star is 'a'. (It gets more complicated for a binary star.)

    If they become significant, due to us going there, or 'someone' coming from there, they might get a more interesting name.

    1. Flakk

      Re: If you wait, 'romance' may come.

      Don't leave it up to the Internet. I can only imagine the soul-crushing angst an astronomer would feel, having to write a press release stating that the planets were renamed "Planety McPlanetface B" through "Planety McPlanetface H" by popular vote.

  16. Aladdin Sane

    Unpack the suitcases.

    Re-pack with extra swimwear and flippers.

  17. Claptrap314 Silver badge

    Snow too cold in winter?

    Did I miss the memo? I though life evolved in water, then eventually moved to land. Does life require a tidal margin?

    As for us, surely this thing called a "ship" can handle living on the surface of an eternal ocean.

    Or by "habitable" are we now requiring that a Club Med already be set up for us when we get there?

    So confused.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: Snow too cold in winter?

      You will probably need access to some raw material and a surface with clay to glom onto.

      Salty water all the way down until you hit salty ice may not a perfect recipe.

      1. Steve Button

        Why doesn't ice float?

        I'm a bit late to the party here, but does anyone know why the ice doesn't float on top of the water?

        1. richardcox13

          Re: Why doesn't ice float?

          There are many types of ice. The common one (that will keep this evenings G&T cool) floats.

          The other ones require ever more extreme conditions, and some have a higher density/ Hence the diagram showing *Ice VII` (they variations are numbered).

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If there is insufficient density to hold onto an atmosphere - does that mean the surface water will keep boiling off into space? Or will it create a dense fog?

    1. anthonyhegedus Silver badge

      No, it'll just be pissing down all the time. We can conclude that the planet mostly consists of umbrella shops and pirates.

      1. CentralCoasty

        So like any holiday in Wales then?

  19. Martin Budden Bronze badge

    They weren't human-habitable anyway.

    Not massive enough to hold an atmosphere, most likely tidally locked... so what if there's surplus water? Just being in the so-called goldilocks zone isn't enough.

  20. Roj Blake

    A Nice Outer of Ice...

    ...would be a good shield against the radiation given off by the star.

    It seem to me that although any life would be harder to detect, it's more likely to be there.

  21. Shaolin Twelve

    How much water?

    0.7% Water....Earth?.....Really?

    Can anyone confirm this figure, as that seems plain wrong to me? (admittedly I'm not a boffin)

    I thought that there was around 76% water on the face of the Earth (Just looking at it from the perspective of land to sea surface-visible ratio), and potentially up to 7 times more water in the mantle (than on the surface of Earth), and while I am not using the 76% figure as the base of that 'upto' 7 times (which would be a false result), it seems to me that there must be a far greater amount of water by mass, than 0.7%.

    I know there is a lot of other stuff on Earth (pesky rocks 'n stuff), but 0.7% sounds more like a figure for Mars,

    I'm not a scientist, so please forgive my ignorance, it may be I am missing something entirely, and that probably shows, but even 7% doesn't strike me as being accurate. If I was to take a guess....which I am....I would have thought in the region of a fifth of the World's matter would be water (including the H2O in the atmosphere).

    1. richardcox13

      Re: How much water?

      There is a lot of rock and iron. A lot. Work out the mass of the earth's core (iron density and core radius can be looked up) and that is only a small proportion of the total volume. A few km depth of ocean is tiny relative to the whole sphere.

    2. Horridbloke

      Re: How much water?

      The fondant centre is about 15% by volume.

  22. Frank Rysanek

    Re: 0.7% -- average ocean depth

    What's the average depth of the world's ocean? 1 km maybe? Compare that to the 6000-some km radius of the globe. Well actually it's a ball, so the ratio is (r1^3 - r2^3) / r1^3 == 1 - r2^3/r1^3 . Where r1 = outer radius at sea level, r2 = at average depth. Anything under the ocean floor is mostly solid rock. Till the depth where it melts. Oh wait... that would be about 0.05 % of water... :-)

  23. Shaolin Twelve

    Re: 0.7% -- average ocean depth

    Thank you for your responses,

    I mentioned Earth's mantle, because a few years back I remember watching a documentary which claimed potentially 7 times more water exists in the mantle than on the surface, however, new research suggests approximately the same amount of water exists between the upper and lower mantle boundary, which would mean, if true, that the figure should be doubled to 0.14% approx (not a fifth admittedly, and much lower than I originally thought).

    Thanks for the article and the feedback, I'm off to do more research on this as it's fascinating stuff!

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