Take a virtual trip to an alien world

NASA’s Exoplanet Travel Bureau is open for virtual visitors

exoplanet travel posters

BON VOYAGE  NASA’s tongue-in-cheek Exoplanet Travel Bureau offers virtual trips to exotic planets around other stars.


If you’re looking for starry skies, exotic plant life and extreme weather on your summer vacation, NASA’s Exoplanet Travel Bureau has just the spot. Consider a trip to Kepler 186f.

This extrasolar planet is nearly 558 light-years away, so a real trip may be out of your budget — and astronomers aren’t sure if the sphere even has a life-sustaining atmosphere. But NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration website offers a virtual tour of what visiting the alien world might be like.

No one has taken a real photo of the surface of any exoplanet (yet). But artists have generated possible landscapes based on what astronomers know, including the planets’ sizes, masses and temperatures, as well as the sizes and temperatures of their stars.

For instance, Kepler 186f, discovered in 2014, orbits at a distance from its small dim star that would allow temperatures to sustain liquid water at the surface, if the planet has an atmosphere. The interactive website lets you scroll around the landscape (with and without an atmosphere) and view “hypothetical” water, plant life and clouds. Don’t forget to look up.

If that’s not your idea of paradise, you (and your shadows) could check out Kepler 16b or do a little planet-gazing from TRAPPIST-1d, which has six sibling worlds in such close orbits that the orbs would all be visible in the sky.

Lisa Grossman

Lisa Grossman is the astronomy writer. She has a degree in astronomy from Cornell University and a graduate certificate in science writing from University of California, Santa Cruz. She lives near Boston.

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