TRAPPIST-1 Star System Revisited

TRAPPIST-1 Planet Lineup - NASA
TRAPPIST-1 Planet Lineup – NASA Illustration

We commented in a previous post about extra-solar planets (planets orbiting other stars), and whether those planets could have life on them. The media seem to convey the idea that there are hundreds of “earths” all containing life-forms similar to us. They suggest that if there are many Earth-like planets with life on them, then that indicates that Earth and the life on it came about by chance processes. In February, NASA called a special news conference to announce that they had found a star they call TRAPPIST-1 which had seven Earth-sized planets orbiting it in the “Goldilocks Zone.” The Goldilocks Zone is the area where water could exist in the liquid state. Many media sources were quick to announce that NASA had found seven planets that were “Earth twins” and almost surely would be inhabited.

Let us emphasize again that finding life in space is not an issue of whether God exists. If scientists find life in space, it will have been created by God and will have a purpose in existing. This particular find, however, is just another example of how quickly and irresponsibly the media will jump to promote an agenda that will sell. As more data has become available, it is becoming increasingly obvious that this seven-planet system is not an ideal place for life. In fact, any life form that happened to be there would be destroyed by the properties of the system.

TRAPPIST-1, the star that serves as the “sun,” is a very cool dwarf star. That means it gives off a very limited spectrum of light. The critical wavelengths required for photosynthesis and chemosynthesis are simply not present. The masses of these planets range from .4 to 1.4 times the mass of Earth. That means the smaller planets will almost surely not have an atmosphere since they are smaller than Mars. The length of time for the planets to orbit their star varies from 1.5 days to 20 days. That makes a very short year. They are all less than 6 million miles from their parent star. That means all activity on the star would likely be lethal to life-forms on the planets. For a comparison, Mercury, the planet closest to our Sun is separated from it by 36.8 million miles. Earth is 93 million miles from the Sun.

God may have prepared other Earth-like planets, and they may have even been equipped with life. The point is that it is easy to see our planet’s uniqueness, design, and careful planning. We haven’t yet found anyplace like it in other star systems.
Data from Astronomy, July 2017, page 8.
–John N. Clayton © 2017

TRAPPIST-1 Planets and Life

TRAPPIST-1 Planet Lineup - NASA
TRAPPIST-1 Planet Lineup – NASA Illustration
In May of 2016 astronomers using the Transiting Planets and Planetesimals Small Telescope (called TRAPPIST) announced the finding of three planets orbiting a single star which has been labeled “TRAPPIST-1.” On February 22, 2017, astronomers released to the media a report stating that they have discovered four more planets orbiting Trappist-1. The planets are small, and their location in relation to the star they orbit indicates that they could have liquid water on them. The media has picked this up and USA Today (February 23, 2017, page B1) has headlined “Newly Discovered Network of Planets Could Harbor Life.”

This is just another example of media sensationalizing and misapplying a scientific study. Let us point out before going any further that we have repeatedly said that there may be life elsewhere in the universe. We have also pointed out that chance is an unworkable explanation for the creation of life anywhere. The Bible doesn’t say this is the only place where God has seen fit to create life, so the question of life in space is moot.

The facts are that this is a remarkable scientific achievement made possible because the planets transit the star so that we can see them because we are looking at them at the proper angle. We now know that the process of star formation produces multiple planets orbiting the stars. To suggest that there will be life on one of these planets is a wild speculation. First of all, the star is very small and very dim. It is a red star just slightly bigger than Jupiter. That means it will emit the wrong wavelengths for photosynthetic life at least, and radiation levels are probably prohibitive. There are many other parameters that have to be carefully chosen for life to exist–things like shielding magnetic fields, sheltering major planets, proper spin rates, protective atmospheric layers, proper densities of the atmosphere, and many more. A discussion of some of these parameters is available in videos # 6 & 7 on our doesgodexist.tv website.
–John N. Clayton © 2017