Lonely Planet Writer

Become a virtual space tourist with NASA's Exoplanet Travel Bureau

It might not be possible to visit other planets … yet. But these new virtual reality tours from NASA give a taste of what it could be like to set foot on an alternative Earth. Their Exoplanet Travel Bureau allows you take online tours of richly imagined planets from far outside our own solar system.

Become a virtual space tourist
Touch down on Kepler-16b with NASA’s Exoplanet Travel Bureau. Image by: NASA

NASA’s posters for these exoplanets caused serious extra-terrestrial wanderlust when they were first released last year. Now the new VR tours bring them further to life based on what limited data is available to scientists through their observations.

Among the planets you can touch down on are Kepler-16b, which – like the fictional planet of Tattoine in Star Wars – has two suns. That means any objects on the surface, like the rocks you can see in the tour, would cast a double shadow.

On Kepler-186f, you can see grass growing, only there it might be red if photosynthesis was influenced by its “star’s red-wavelength photons”.

Be an astro tourist with NASA
Kepler-186f. Image by: NASA

Scientists do not know yet whether it could actually sustain life but it’s an object of deep fascination because it was the first planet found in the “habitable zone” of another star which is of a similar size to our earth.

You can also take a virtual tour of TRAPPIST-1e, another one that could be located in the zone that could sustain life as we know it. TRAPPIST-1e is slightly smaller than earth but has one enormous difference … a year there [the time it takes to orbit its sun] would last just four days.

Exoplanet Travel Bureau makes virtual space travel possible
Take a virtual space tour to Trappist-1d with NASA’s Exoplanet Travel Bureau. Image by: NASA

Martin Still of NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite said: “Because … [these] planets are so distant, it is currently impossible to detect their atmospheres – if they exist at all – or characterise their atmospheric properties.

“Consequently, we have limited knowledge about what these distant worlds are really like, but these surface visualisations allow us to imagine some of the possibilities.”