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The Exoplanet Travel Bureau: NASA posters advertise Kepler planets

The space agency is promoting some of the 1,000 planets discovered by the Kepler Mission in the style of vintage travel posters.


Looking for a new horizon? Why not the red fields of Kepler-186f, or the double sunsets of Kepler-16b?

Well, actually, there's a very good reason why not: we're not really at that level of space travel quite yet. That said, if we were to travel to and colonise space, Kepler planets would be where we would want to go. These are "Earth-like" planets whose stars are "Sun-like", orbiting at a distance that allows the right temperature conditions for liquid surface water.

So far, the Kepler Mission has located some 1,000 of these planets out beyond the solar system, some thousands of light-years from Earth -- and, in a series of retrofuturistic travel posters recalling vintage advertisements for locations around our own planet -- NASA has started to imagine what they might be like to visit.


There are three posters in the series so far -- for planets Kepler-186f, HD 40307g and Kepler-16b.

Kepler-186f, the discovery of which was announced in April 2014, is the first planet in the Kepler Mission to have a size similar to that of Earth. Located in the constellation Cygnus, some 500 light years from Earth, it orbits a red dwarf star, with around 4 percent the luminosity of the Sun. NASA's poster imagines, therefore, red vegetation.

"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 colour palette that's very different than the greens on Earth," the space agency wrote.

HD 40307g, located in the constellation of Pictor some 42 light years away and orbiting an orange star slightly cooler than the Sun, has twice the volume of Earth. Its atmosphere is layered in gas and ice, which obscures the surface below. However, its gravitational pull would be much stronger than that of Earth.

Finally, Kepler-16b, a Saturn-mass planet in the constellation of Cygnus, is the first confirmed planet known to orbit a binary star system -- like the fictional "Star Wars" planet, Tatooine. It completes an orbit every 229 days of the orange dwarf and red dwarf stars. Just within the very outer edges of the habitable zone, it is probably a gas giant with cold temperatures, and therefore not likely to be hospitable to life.

"Prospects for life on this unusual world aren't good, as it has a temperature similar to that of dry ice," NASA wrote. "But the discovery indicates that the [Star Wars] iconic double-sunset is anything but science fiction."

You can check out the Exoplanet Travel Bureau series on NASA's PlanetQuest website, and bookmark the page to keep an eye out for future posters.