Planning an exotic vacation during the summer? Look no further because NASA’s interactive Exoplanet Travel Bureau is now offering virtual trips to Earth-size planets beyond our solar system.
Thousands of exoplanets lie outside the solar system but since they are light-years away, sending humans to these worlds remains a distant dream. However, using NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration website, you can explore the surface of an alien world via 360-degree, interactive visualizations.
As you investigate each planet’s surface, you’ll discover features like the blood-red sky of TRAPPIST-1d, or the moon of Kepler-16b which is larger than either of the planet’s two suns.
Since no real photos of these planets exist, the views from their surface are artists’ impressions, based on the limited data that is available, says the NASA statement.
The newest planet to feature this 360-degree surface visualization is Kepler-186f, an Earth-size planet orbiting a star much cooler and redder than the Sun. Scientists don’t know if Kepler-186f has an atmosphere, but with the NASA visualization tool, you can see how the presence or absence of an atmosphere would change the view of the sky from the planet’s surface.
Many of the exoplanets featured on the Exoplanet Exploration website were discovered by the Kepler space telescope.
“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,” said Martin Still, program scientist for NASA’s newest space-based planet-hunting observatory, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS).
“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,” said Still. “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.”
You can also go through travel posters of such distant worlds as Kepler 186f, TRAPPIST-1e, or PSO J318.5-22, where the ‘nightlife never ends’ because the planet doesn’t orbit a star, but is instead floating freely through space.
Many exoplanets share characteristics with planets that orbit our Sun — some are gaseous like Saturn and Jupiter, while others are rocky like Earth and Mars. But these alien worlds also have unique features that set them apart. NASA is helping scientists discover and learn about these alien worlds with multiple telescopes and observatories, both on the ground and in space.
All the 360-degree visualizations are viewable on desktop and mobile devices, or in virtual reality headsets that work with smartphones.