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Visit Kepler’s Exoplanets—And Don’t Worry About the Natives (At Least for Now)

NASA has made a set of travel posters themed to exoplanets while a nonprofit searches for life among them

An artist's rendition of Kepler, on the hunt for planets like our own. (NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech/T Pyle)
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Recently, after four years of training the Kepler Space Telescope on 150,000 distant stars, NASA scientists added eight new candidates—including their thousanth overall—to the list of planets that are just far enough away from their star to be potentially habitable, according to the agency.

“We’re closer than we’ve ever been to finding Earth twins around other sun-like stars,” said Fergal Mullally, a NASA scientist who led the search, in a statement.

To celebrate, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory created travel posters for three of the habitable planets that Kepler has found. Don't get too excited: some have quirks that would still keep us out. One planet, HIP 116454b, spins at the same rate as its star, which means that half of it is always cold and dark, while the other half remains hot and sunny throughout its nine-day orbit.

You can cross one danger of interstellar travel off the list, though—aliens. A nonprofit called the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence recently focused a different telescope on HIP 116454b to look for radio signals that might indicate life, as Ian O'Neill of Discovery reports. They found none (but will continue their planet-by-planet search). 

So which planets does NASA imagine we might visit? Kepler-186f is the first to be featured in the travel poster series and for good reason—it was also the first planet detected by the Kepler telescope that was roughly the size of Earth.

Kepler-186f orbits a star that is “cooler and redder” than the sun, says NASA. That’s why the grass and trees appear red in this poster: the agency says the plants' photosynthesis could be affected by the red-wavelength photons of that star.

Photo:NASA/JPL-Caltech

Next is a poster for HD 40307g, the agency’s name for a planet that is double the size of Earth and has eight times as much mass — making the gravitational pull way stronger.

Photo:NASA/JPL-Caltech

The last planet to be featured in the series is Kepler-16b, which actually orbits two stars — leading NASA to conceive of an ultra-romantic double sunset.

Photo:NASA/JPL-Caltech

Unfortunately, a visit to Kepler-16b is probably not in the cards since the surface temperature of the planet is roughly that of dry ice. That’s only if there is a surface, of course, since it may also be nothing but gas.

About Amy Nordrum
Amy Nordrum

Amy Nordrum is a science writer based in New York City. She has contributed to Scientific American, the Atlantic, Popular Mechanics, IEEE Spectrum and Psychology Today.

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