A team of international researchers using NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has ruled out the possibility of life on the distant exoplanet, TRAPPIST-1 c.

Graduate student Sebastian Zieba who participated in the study said the research team set out to determine “if rocky planets have atmospheres or not.”

NASA exoplanet

An artist conceptual drawing showing what the TRAPPIST-1 c could look like. (NASA, ESA, CSA, Joseph Olmstead (STScl))

“In the past, we could only really study planets with thick, hydrogen-rich atmospheres,” Zieba said, according to NASA. “With Webb we can finally start to search for atmospheres dominated by oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide.”

TRAPPIST-1 c is one of seven rocky planets orbiting an ultracool red dwarf star approximately 40 light-years from Earth. Though similar in size and mass, researchers are unsure whether they have similar atmospheres. Nor is it clear whether these planets have enough water, carbon dioxide, and other elements necessary for making an atmosphere and sustaining life.

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The research team observed TRAPPIST-1 c on four separate occasions as it orbited around a star to determine how much atmosphere it has.

If a planet has any atmosphere at all, it will redistribute heat from the dayside to the nightside, causing the dayside temperature to be lower than it would be without an atmosphere, NASA said.

Zieba said the team’s research is consistent with the planet being a bare rock, with no atmosphere or the planet having less CO2 atmosphere than Earth or even Mars with no cloud.

The absence of any thick atmosphere suggests the exoplanet could have possibly formed with relatively little water, NASA said.

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