NASA atmosphere study: two exoplanets could possibly support life

NASA says a pair of exoplanets may have habitable atmospheres based on an atmospheric study researchers recently performed. The scientists focused on exoplanets similar in size to Earth that are described as being 'temperate.' The study was done using the Hubble Space Telescope, and found that the exoplanets TRAPPIST-1c and TRAPPIST-1b have atmospheres that could possibly support life.

NASA was, in this case, looking at the gases in the atmospheres of exoplanets; any of them with "a smothering hydrogen-helium envelope," as STScI's Nikole Lewis called it, would rule out the possibility of sustaining life as the "atmosphere would act like a greenhouse." In the case of the aforementioned exoplanets, neither is thought to have such suffocating atmospheres.

The study was led by MIT's Julien de Wit, and involved Hubble Telescope's Wide Field Camera 3, enabling researchers to see the exponents in nearly infrared light. The chemicals composing the planets' atmospheres will be determined using spectroscopy — the data on those isn't in yet — but the researchers were able to identify an apparent lack of both helium and hydrogen.

That determination is enough to inspire further researcher into the two exoplanets, which could one day reveal information about their environments and, most importantly, whether they can support life. The space agency's Geoff Yoder said in a statement, "This is an exciting time for NASA and exoplanet research."