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At home, but dreaming of traveling to exoplanets

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May 18, 2020
By Amy Sayle

Possibly you’ve been spending lots of time at home lately and are wanting to travel. Recently, I encouraged blog readers to satisfy the travel itch by taking an imaginary trip of billions of miles through our solar system, with a stop at each planet that orbits the Sun.

But why not dream even bigger? Imagine traveling trillions of miles away, to an exoplanet—a planet beyond our own solar system. As of May 14, 2020, there are 4,154 confirmed exoplanets, giving you many options for your traveling daydreams.

There’s something for everyone:                                                              

  • If you don’t want to go too far, Proxima Centauri b is the exoplanet for you. It’s in orbit around Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to us after the Sun. Still, though, this exoplanet and its parent star are about 25 trillion miles away. It’d take more than 4 years to get there—IF you could travel as fast as the speed of light. Which you can’t.

But it’s probably not a good idea to visit, except only in your imagination. According to research at UNC-Chapel Hill, Proxima Centauri is prone to bright and frequent flares that don’t make it a great place for life. You’d be cooked by ultraviolet radiation.

  • If you’re a Star Wars fan, you’ll want to visit Kepler-16b, nicknamed “Tatooine.” Like Luke Skywalker’s fictional home planet, this exoplanet orbits a pair of stars. Admire the double sunset, then move on quickly because the temperature here is very chilly, similar to that of dry ice.
The TRAPPIST-1 system has 7 Earth-sized planets close together. Visit one, and you might see others looming large in the sky. (Credit: NASA-JPL/Caltech)
  • Do you like a nice breeze? Consider a trip to HD 189733 b. Or maybe not. This blue exoplanet is thought to have clouds laced with glass, and that “breeze” sends the glass sideways in winds blowing up to 5,400 miles per hour. Visiting this exoplanet would be death by a zillion cuts.

Visit NASA’s Exoplanet Travel Bureau and NASA’s Eyes on Exoplanets to dream of even more exoplanet destinations, most of which would be nightmares in reality. Although Earth-sized planets within the habitable zone of their stars are among the confirmed exoplanet discoveries, Earth is the only planet with life on it that we know of, so far.

So dream of traveling to exoplanets, but consider that there may be no place like home.

For more skywatching resources, check out our online hub, Morehead At Home. You can join us online—live!—each week on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10 a.m. Eastern time, for our Morehead At Home: Skywatching sessions.