NASA's Interactive 'Exoplanet Travel Bureau' Lets You Virtually Explore Planets in Distant Solar Systems
While we haven't found a direct parallel to Earth yet, we have found lots of fascinating exoplanets with different quirks and eccentricities, and some of them could possibly support life. Exploring them may be out of the question until we make some serious advances in spaceflight, but we now have a good enough idea of how they might look that we can take some virtual trips.
Enter the Exoplanet Travel Bureau, an interactive little project from the "PlanetQuest" outreach team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. They've recreated our best guesses for how the exoplanets Trappist-1e (39 lightyears away from us), Kepler-16b (200 lightyears away), and Kepler-186f (550 lightyears away) look when you're standing on their surface, and they give you an impressive panoramic view to scroll through.
You can see couple samples below, but you can actually visit the "bureau" here.
Guess what? There's ZERO traffic on alien worlds.— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) May 25, 2018
This #MemorialDayWeekend take some "me time" outside of the solar system with @PlanetQuest's Exoplanet Travel Bureau.
All aboard! ⇢ https://t.co/EvK0m2f49tpic.twitter.com/pKLPG8OnVl
— NASA Planetquest (@PlanetQuest) May 24, 2018
"Stayed the night on a temperate world of TRAPPIST-1 (there are 7). I booked the special package in the twilight zone. Worth it imho. My friends went to the day side of the planet and said it was too hot. It melted their cameras!"https://t.co/E2SzQ2jJej pic.twitter.com/tY2kopYn7e
There are still some mysteries to be solved with all of these planets, and there's a chance they might look different. Even for the Kepler-186f view, you can toggle the atmosphere on and off since we're not entirely sure if the planet can sustain an atmosphere just yet.
Plus, they have a bunch of cool retro travel posters to go along with each world. There's only three planets you can visit, but they have five posters available, suggesting they're planning to add some more "travel destinations" later on.
Most exoplanets are found by looking for transit events, which are instances where a star's brightness briefly dips in a manner suggesting that something just passed in front of it. Once we've identified a star with an orbiting planet, we can take a closer look and pick up traces of elements to start determining what this planet is like.
So far, the Trappist-1 system has been the most fascinating, with seven orbiting planets that could all potentially have atmospheres (with Trappist-1e, included in the bureau, having the best chance of supporting life). But now that NASA's TESS spacecraft is up in space, with the James Webb telescope following it eventually, we'll hopefully find plenty more soon.
Until then, you can pretend to stand on them on the internet, which is the next best thing.