my first article as a freelance science journalist has been published at the Planetary Society. you can read it at https://www.planetary.org/articles/james-webb-space-telescope-trappist-1
this article grew out of my desire to interrogate why so much of JWST’s cycle 1 time was devoted to the TRAPPIST-1 system. i might be biased, as a direct imager, but i was initially very skeptical that these observations were worth such a large investment. i interviewed a number of scientists leading these cycle 1 studies and tried to piece together how their work might impact our understanding of terrestrial planet atmospheres, which dramatically shape our understanding of life in the universe.
i have to say, outside of the article (which employs a much more optimistic voice) i’m still fairly skeptical, especially when it comes to future biosignature studies. i’m also worried that, while M-dwarfs are the most common stars, tidally locked planets are probably not the best place to develop life. even if every TRAPPIST-1 planet is tidally locked, the reconnaissance observations in this cycle will do important work to test expectations of what terrestrial atmospheres can look like. just don’t call water detections aliens, please.