As the exoplanet discoveries from Kepler keep pouring in, we're realising just how fantastic, bizarre, and varied the planets of our universe truly are. Someday, we might see them with our own eyes. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has created a stunning set of exoplanet travel posters that will make you wish very hard that someday is now.
The posters instantly reminded me of two recent things: the blockbuster Interstellar and a little short film that was being passed around the internet called Wanderers. Many of Interstellar's most memorable shots were of astronauts exploring eerie alien planets, either sheathed in ice or beset by mountain-high tides. And in Wanderers, humans tour the solar system, flying in wing suits above Titan and riding a dirigible on Mars.
The Exoplanet Travel Bureau, as these posters are labelled, taps into that same curiosity about the imaginable but unreachable corners of our universe. Here are HD 40307g, Kepler-186f, and Kepler-16b, the premiere travel destinations of the far future.
All three posters are available for download in high-res from JPL's website.
Twice as big in volume as the Earth, HD 40307g straddles the line between "Super-Earth" and "mini-Neptune" and scientists aren't sure if it has a rocky surface or one that's buried beneath thick layers of gas and ice. One thing is certain though: at eight time the Earth's mass, its gravitational pull is much, much stronger.
Kepler-186f is the first Earth-size planet discovered in the potentially 'habitable zone' around another star, where liquid water could exist on the planet's surface. Its star is much cooler and redder than our Sun. If plant life does exist on a planet like Kepler-186f, its photosynthesis could have been influenced by the star's red-wavelength photons, making for a colour palette that's very different than the greens on Earth. This discovery was made by Kepler, NASA's planet hunting telescope.
Like Luke Skywalker's planet "Tatooine" in Star Wars, Kepler-16b orbits a pair of stars. Depicted here as a terrestrial planet, Kepler-16b might also be a gas giant like Saturn.