NASA Taunts Us With Exoplanet Tourism Posters
I want to go to there.
Exoplanet tourism, 1950s-style. Image: Image: NASA-JPL.
We're only a week into 2015, yet astronomers have already produced at least a year's worth of juicy exoplanet news. Within the last few days, the Kepler space telescope detected its 1,000th exoplanet, volunteers helped NASA identify one million planetary habitats, and the most Earth-like worlds ever discovered were announced—and that's just the highlight reel.
It's clear that the mysteries of alien worlds are very rapidly being untangled, and the steady stream of new revelations makes for some high-octane daydream fuel. Luckily for us all, NASA's PlanetQuest has released some gorgeous concept artwork posters to hold us over until we can actually Interstellar our way over to these worlds.
Attributed to the sadly fictional Exoplanet Travel Bureau, the posters are a riff on retrofuturist travel advertisements, and highlight the special attractions of exoplanetary destinations. The below poster, for example, depicts Kepler-16b, which was the first exoplanet ever detected in a binary star system. This means the planet orbits two suns, like some kind of Star Wars monstrosity.
The poster is a touch inaccurate because Kepler-16b is a gas giant, and so there wouldn't be much of a surface onto which to cast two shadows. But it's still cool to know that there are worlds that experience multiple sunrises and sunsets. Indeed, astronomers have found terrestrial worlds with multiple suns as well, so it's not like a Tatooine-like planet rife with Banthas and wretched hives of scum and villainy is totally out of the question.
Another planet that got itself a vintage PlanetQuest makeover was HD 40307g, which is eight times more massive than our planet.
Classification-wise, the planet is stuck somewhere between being a "Super-Earth" and a "Mini-Neptune," but either way, the gravity on this world must be stultifying. It would be a good place to go for some rest and relaxation, because you'd pretty much have no other options thanks to the intense gravity well.
The last of the series is a representation of Kepler-186f, which was the most Earth-like planet on the books until yesterday, when Kepler-438b and Kepler-442b dethroned it.
Despite getting edged out by newer Earth doppelgangers, Kepler-186f is still an intriguing planet for scientists, as well as for any future interstellar travelers lucky enough to get there. It was the first Earth-sized planet ever discovered in the habitable zone of its star, and though it is much colder than Earth, it's still a promising candidate for life.
As PlanetQuest points out, the fact that Kepler-186f orbits a red dwarf might indicate that any photosynthetic life that developed on the planet might be red, not green, in order to maximize its star's unique wavelengths. Naturally, it still has white picket fences though—those things are a universal standard.
Hopefully, NASA will continue to commission these vintage pieces. With the exoplanet count spiraling ever higher, there is certainly no lack of inspiration. From wobbly worlds to diamond planets, astronomers have found that there is a lot of diversity out there. Until humans can check out these distant digs for ourselves, we'll need to hit up posters like these for that sweet exploratory fix.
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