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If you’re a fan of GFR, there’s a good chance you grew up dreaming of leaving footprints in alien sand, watching a sun other than our own sink below a mysterious horizon. Even though the prospect of venturing beyond our homeworld still seems impossibly distant for most of us, it’s a dream that lingers. If you’re forever dreaming about posting #yolo from the crest of Olympus Mons, these lovely travel posters mocked up by NASA are only going to make things worse…because they represent exoplanets discovered by the Kepler telescope, real destinations that you could, if you happened to have a starship lying around, actually visit.
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.
The posters were created by the folks at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, but sadly they’re not taking reservations for trips anytime soon. Because if they were, I’d totally be planning my trip to HD 40307g just so I could drop a GoPro down the gravity well. It’ll be a bit of a haul — HD 40307g is some 42 light years away, orbiting the orange star HD 40307. In addition to HD 40307g, the system contains five other known planets.
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 color palette that’s very different than the greens on Earth. This discovery was made by Kepler, NASA’s planet hunting telescope.
Red sun? Habitable zone? You JPL dorks can’t fool me — that’s clearly Krypton. That white picket fence was grown using the same crystals as Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. Kepler-186f was actually discovered only last year, and it was a huge milestone because it confirmed what scientists already suspected. As Elisa Quintana, research scientist at the SETI Institute at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, put it, “We know of just one planet where life exists — Earth. When we search for life outside our solar system we focus on finding planets with characteristics that mimic that of Earth. Finding a habitable zone planet comparable to Earth in size is a major step forward.”
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.
Come on, who the hell wouldn’t give their left arm to watch a double sunset while humming John Williams’ score? Not this guy. Chop that puppy up then 3D-print me a replacement while I’m taking off my shoes at the spaceport security gate. Kepler-16b was discovered in September 2011, located around 200 light years away in the constellation Cygnus.
You can download high-res versions of JPL’s “Exoplanet Travel Bureau” posters right here. And while we’re all pining for distant horizons, we’ll just leave you with this…