NASA has added a feature to its Exoplanet Exploration website that helps you explore exoplanets.
It’s called the Exoplanet Travel Bureau, and as the name suggests, it aims to give you an idea of what it would be like to travel to a planet outside our solar system.
Since 1992, 3,730 exoplanets have been confirmed as found, with another 4,496 candidates across 2,783 star systems.
The vast majority of them, sadly, aren’t fit for human habitat. They’re mostly too hot, too oxygen-starved, too radioactive or any number of other extreme variables that just aren’t conducive to visitors actually staying alive.
But they are interesting, and hopefully one day we can at least get a proper look at them. For now, there is this:
That’s what NASA’s researchers think Kepler 186f might look like. Pretty boring unless you add atmosphere.
This is “what the planet might look like with an atmosphere thick enough to hold water vapor”:
“Because Kepler-186f and the majority of Kepler-discovered planets are so distant, it is currently impossible to detect their atmospheres – if they exist at all – or characterize their atmospheric properties,” Martin Still, program scientist for NASA’s newest space-based planet-hunting observatory, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), explains.
“Consequently, we have limited knowledge about what these distant worlds are really like, but these surface visualizations allow us to imagine some of the possibilities.”
At the Travel Bureau, there’s a bunch of planets you can choose from:
Here are a couple more. Click on them and you can zoom around for a 360-degree view. But first, remember:
If you haven’t visited NASA’s alien worlds website, you’ll find it’s a great rabbit hole. It’s easy to use, and perfectly edited to be engaging for just about any audience.
The Galaxy of Horrors, for example, showcases six of the most terrifying planets NASA has found so far:
Among them include the planet being eaten by its own star, a world that is half daylit lava and half permanent darkness, and a blue world where 8600 km/h winds eternally blow shards of glass sideways.
Equally fun is the Universe of Monsters where NASA’s team has identified six planets which would be great homes for classic nightmare creatures, such as TRAPPIST 1b – the perfect planet for werewolves, with its six full moons.
You can also run side-by-side comparison with other planets, and zoom out for a view of how each planet’s system works:
And there’s a timeline of all the major exoplanetary discoveries we’ve made since the first two by Aleksander Wolszczan and Dale Frail in January, 1992:
According to Still, the time when we can build visualisations that are genuine models of what these planets will look like is not too far awy.
“Current and future NASA missions, including TESS and the James Webb Space Telescope, will find the nearest exoplanets to our solar system and characterize their atmospheres, bridging the gap between speculation and what’s really out there,” he says on NASA’s Exoplanet’s landing page.
Until then, jump in – and know that the real thing is most likely even wilder.
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