Deadly radiation might have dampened hopes that TRAPPIST-1's seven planets could be home to some sort of life, but that hasn't stopped scientists from continued research and investigation. The latest revelation? TRAPPIST-1 is almost certainly older than our own solar system. Much, much older in fact.
New estimates by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory suggest that TRAPPIST-1 could be some 9.8 billion years old. That's just a tad bit more ancient than our own solar system, which is believed to clock in at 4.5 billion years.
Does that mean if we could theoretically visit TRAPPIST-1, we'd be five billion years too late to meet alien life? It does complicate matters, certainly, but it's not impossible that some life exists, as JPL's Elizabeth Landau writes:
Given that the TRAPPIST-1 planets have lower densities than Earth, it is possible that large reservoirs of volatile molecules such as water could produce thick atmospheres that would shield the planetary surfaces from harmful radiation. A thick atmosphere could also help redistribute heat to the dark sides of these tidally locked planets, increasing habitable real estate. But this could also backfire in a "runaway greenhouse" process, in which the atmosphere becomes so thick the planet surface overheats — as on Venus.
Astronomer Adam Burgasser, one of the researchers behind the new age calculations, sums up the situation pretty well:
"If there is life on these planets, I would speculate that it has to be hardy life, because it has to be able to survive some potentially dire scenarios for billions of years."
It's sad that the odds of life for TRAPPIST-1 shrink the more we learn about it, but I reckon it's better than having no new information at all.