NASA Makes Vintage Posters for Futuristic Travel

1-7-15 Exoplanet main
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory released three posters from the fictional "Exoplanet Travel Bureau" advertising destinations outside our solar system. NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology is marketing three other-worldly travel destinations in the form of hypothetical posters from the fictional Exoplanet Travel Bureau. The posters, released in December, depict three exoplanets—planets that orbit a star other than our sun—the way travel posters in the 1930s portrayed Australia, Palestine, the Soviet Union and even Amtrak lines, as Business Insider points out.

The posters were created by NASA JPL Visual Strategists Joby Harris, David Delgado and Dan Goods, says Elizabeth Landau, a spokeswoman for NASA JPL. They were published on PlanetQuest, the public information site for NASA’s exoplanet exploration program.

“We have been super inspired by the fact that so many planets are being discovered. It feels like we’re living in the future or science fiction is coming to life,” says Delgado, whose team worked in concert with JPL scientists to ensure their creative conceptualizations were based on real features of each planet. “We thought it would be really cool to explore the characteristics of each planet through the context of travel.”

So what’s on the itinerary?

Kepler-16b, discovered in 2011, is the first real-life example of a phenomenon found on Luke Skywalker’s home planet Tatooine in the Star Wars films: a planet orbits around two stars—in other words, a planet that has two suns. 

1-7-15 Kepler 16b Kepler-16b orbits two stars, like Luke Skywalker's Tatooine in "Star Wars." NASA/JPL-Caltech

Next, HD 40307g “straddles the line between ‘Super-Earth’ and ‘mini-Neptune,’” according to the “advertisement.” Discovered in 2012, HD 40307g is 44 light years away from Earth and at least seven times its mass, meaning any future tourists would feel a much stronger gravitational pull than they do back home. 

1-7-15 HD 40307g The fictional Exoplanet Travel Bureau invites you to visit HD 40307g, 44 light years away from Earth. NASA/JPL-Caltech

Finally, futurists might one day visit Kepler-186f, the first Earth-sized planet discovered within the habitable zone of the star it orbits. It was found in April 2014. The habitable zone is the range of distance from the star in which the planet is not too cold and not too hot; instead it is just the right temperature to have liquid water—required to sustain life as we know it—on its surface. This is also sometimes referred to as the “Goldilocks” zone.

"The discovery of Kepler-186f is a significant step toward finding worlds like our planet Earth," Paul Hertz, NASA's Astrophysics Division director, said in April.

The poster’s tagline—"Where the grass is always redder on the other side"—points to the fact that the star 186f orbits is 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,” the poster explains.

1-7-15 Kepler 186f Kepler-186f, discovered in April 2014, was the first Earth-size planet scientists found in the habitable zone of the star it orbits. NASA/JPL-Caltech

The team is working on three additional posters in the same futuristic travel vein that will be released in the coming months.

In the meantime, astronomers announced Tuesday that they had discovered eight new exoplanets in the habitable zones of their stars. Two of these in particular, Kepler-438b and Kepler-442b, are the most Earth-like exoplanets ever identified, scientists say, even more so than 186f. Another trip for another day.