NASA announced a nearby star with seven Earthlike planets on Wednesday.
Good luck getting to the seven newly discovered planets circling the star known as the Trappist-1. They’re there alright — a whole litter of Earth-sized worlds orbiting in the so-called habitable zone around their parent sun, the spot where water could exist on their surfaces in liquid form, meaning life could abound too.
The problem is, they’re 39 light years away. And since a single light year is 5.88 trillion miles (9.5 trillion km), traveling 39 of them would take you… hold on, let’s do the math. OK got it: an incredibly long time.
So it’s a good thing NASA has some terrific artists on staff. Earthlings may not be making any vacation jaunts to any exoplanets any time soon, but if that day ever arrives, the travel posters are ready. No sooner was the Trappist-1 discovery announced in a live-streamed press conference on Feb. 22 than NASA released its latest addition to the fantasy poster oeuvre: “Planet-hop from Trappist 1e,” reads the text to the image of what things might look on the surface of a single planet under a red sun with six sibling planets nearby hanging in the sky. “Voted the best ‘hab zone’ vacation within 12 parsecs of Earth.’”
But that’s not all in the collection of the “Exoplanet Travel Bureau.” There’s Kepler 186f, “Where the grass is always redder,” thanks to the long-wavelength light from its star; there’s Kepler 16b, “Where your shadow always has company,” a result of the fact that, like the planet Tatooine in the first Star Wars movie, it orbits two suns.
The art is very much rendered in the style of the 1930s, when travel aboard great ocean liners made the business of venturing anywhere off your home shores an exercise in glamour and mystery. Some of the same spirit will surely attach when the shores we leave are planetary and the oceans are the ones of exceedingly deep space. Until then, NASA offers a playful, wistful taste of what may one day be.