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Apr 9, 2024

The TRAPPIST-1 planetary system has fascinated both scientists and the public since the discovery of the last five of its seven terrestrial worlds in 2017. With four of those planets in the so-called habitable zone, where water can be liquid, the system has become a favorite target of ground- and space-based telescopes alike, especially with regard to the potential for harboring life. However, TRAPPIST-1 is a red dwarf star, cooler and smaller than our own Sun, leading to concerns about the ability of these tidally locked worlds to develop and maintain their own atmospheres. Now, in new research published in The Astrophysical Journal, a team of researchers has discovered that TRAPPIST-1e's atmosphere is being stripped by strong electric currents, quashing some hopes that the world is habitable.

Communications specialist Beth Johnson is joined by co-author Dr. Cecilia Garraffo from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics to talk about this disappointing news and its impact on the search for life beyond Earth, as well as her work in establishing AstroAI, "a cutting-edge research institute dedicated to advancing astrophysics through the application of artificial intelligence." (Recorded 21 March 2024.)