Virtual Reality Tour of 6 Real Exoplanets in 4K Ultra-HD, 360°

What would it be like to stand on the surface of another planet? “We The Curious” channel has teamed up with a group of astrophysicists to create a scientifically accurate virtual reality tour of six planets discovered outside our solar system. The fruit of this collaboration is the video below, in 4K Ultra-HD and 360-degree. Narrated and produced by: Ross Exton.

Related: Exoplanet Travel Bureau by NASA

Planets in the Tour

LkCa 15 b

Planet type: Young Gas Giant
Constellation: Taurus-Auriga star forming region
Distance: 430 light years
Temperature: ~5000 °C
Mass: 1900 ME (~1900 times the mass of Earth. For a comparison, Jupiter is 317.83 Earth mass)

LkCa 15 b is a candidate protoplanetary object in orbit around LkCa 15, a star in the Taurus-Auriga Star Forming Region. It was discovered by direct imaging techniques using the Keck II telescope in 2011 by Adam Kraus and Michael Ireland. A 2015 study of observations from the Magellan Telescopes and the Large Binocular Telescope argued that the planet is forming through accretion. It is the first observed exoplanet seen in the process of active accretion.

A protoplanet is a large planetary embryo that originated within a protoplanetary disc and has undergone internal melting to produce a differentiated interior. Protoplanets are thought to form out of kilometer-sized planetesimals that gravitationally perturb each other’s orbits and collide, gradually coalescing into the dominant planets.

According to the giant impact hypothesis, the Moon formed from a colossal impact of a hypothetical protoplanet called Theia with Earth (or, according to a new theory, a terrestrial synestia), early in the Solar System’s history.

WASP-121b

Planet type: Hot Jupiter
Constellation: Puppis
Distance: 880 light years
Temperature: ~2500 °C
Mass: 376 ME

WASP-121b is a “hot Jupiter” exoplanet orbiting the star WASP-121. It is the first exoplanet found to contain water in an extrasolar planetary stratosphere.

Hot Jupiters are gas giant exoplanets, but they orbit much closer to its host star than Jupiter does to our Sun. Because they are so hot, a lot of the atmosphere around them actually evaporates off. When a comet gets too close to the Sun, you see a lot of evaporation of the comet happen, a similar process happens for these type of planets. And because these planets are so close to their host star, we expect them to be tidally-locked, which means the same part of the planet will always face the host star. And that causes a very large day/night contrast in temperature: it’s very hot on the day side, and it’ll be quite a bit colder on the night side. This will, in turn, create very large-scale weather patterns around the planet.

This planet is so close that the tidal gravity is starting to distort the planet itself. If this particular planet, the WASP-121b was any closer to its host star, WASP-121, it could actually break apart.

Osiris

Planet type: Hot Jupiter
Constellation: Pegasus
Distance: 159 light years
Temperature: ~1130 °C
Mass: 226 ME

HD 209458 b, also given the nickname Osiris, is an exoplanet that orbits the solar analog HD 209458 in the constellation Pegasus, some 159 light-years from the Solar System. The radius of the planet’s orbit is 7 million kilometers, about 0.047 astronomical units, or one eighth the radius of Mercury’s orbit.

Osiris represents a number of milestones in extraplanetary research. It was the first of many categories:

  • a transiting extrasolar planet
  • the first planet detected through more than one method
  • an extrasolar planet known to have an atmosphere
  • an extrasolar planet observed to have an evaporating hydrogen atmosphere
  • an extrasolar planet found to have an atmosphere containing oxygen and carbon
  • one of the first two extrasolar planets to be directly observed spectroscopically
  • the first extrasolar gas giant to have its superstorm measured (with wind speeds of up to 18,000 km/h or 11.185 mph!)
  • the first planet to have its orbital speed measured, determining its mass directly.

Stephen Lines (the University of Exeter, Department of Physics and Astronomy), who studies the clouds on exoplanets, says: “With such high temperatures, we’re not really looking at water clouds like we have here on Earth. But at these much higher temperatures, we have sort of evaporation and condensation cycle of things like iron and silicates. So these planets might actually have molten iron rain, and silicate or glass rain. Which is incredible, because, with these wind speeds of five kilometers per second (18,000 km/h or 11.185 mph), you’re effectively going to be lacerated by this glass rain and molten iron.”

Kepler-62e

Planet type: Super Earth
Constellation: Pegasus
Distance: 1,200 light years
Temperature: -3 °C
Mass: 4.5 ME

Kepler-62e is a super-Earth exoplanet which is roughly 60 percent larger (in diameter) than Earth. It is orbiting within the habitable zone of Kepler-62, a star somewhat cooler and smaller than the Sun. It may be a terrestrial or ocean-covered planet; it lies in the inner part of its host star’s habitable zone.

Dr. Nathan Mayne of the University of Exeter, who studies the atmospheres of the exoplanets, says: “Kepler-62e is a super-Earth. In our own Solar System, there are no planets which exist in the size range between Earth and Neptune. But, actually, as we observe of the galaxy, we find this is one of the most common forms of planets. We think many of these have kind of rocky cores. They’re essentially terrestrial planets, but they’re likely to have a huge ocean. As they much larger than the Earth, they might have a much stronger gravity. And they probably have thicker atmospheres. That means any land feature on these planets are going to be weathered and suppressed and effectively destroyed.”

So, what we can see on these super-Earths is a huge ocean which is not interrupted by land masses, therefore huge waves, like ones in the movie Interstellar.

Kepler-62e artist conception
Artist’s conception of Kepler-62e, a super-Earth-size planet in the habitable zone of Kepler-62, a star smaller and cooler than the sun, located about 1,200 light-years from Earth.
Image: Wikipedia

55 Cancri e

Planet type: Super Earth
Constellation: Cancer
Distance: 40 light years
Temperature: 1,700 °C
Mass: 8.63 ME

55 Cancri e is a super-Earth type exoplanet in the orbit of its Sun-like host star 55 Cancri A. Its mass is about 8.63 Earth masses and its diameter is about twice that of the Earth, thus classifying it as the first super-Earth discovered around a main sequence star, predating Gliese 876 d by a year. The planet is very close to its star, it takes less than 18 hours to complete an orbit. In February 2016, it was announced that NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope had detected hydrogen and helium (and suggestions of hydrogen cyanide), in the atmosphere of 55 Cancri e, the first time the atmosphere of a super-Earth exoplanet was analyzed successfully. Hubble detected no water vapor.

“With a molten lava surface, raining molten rock, and constant planet-wide lightning storms, 55 Cancri e is a pretty nasty place. Probably as close to Dante’s Inferno as you can imagine.”

TRAPPIST-1e

Planet type: Terrestrial
Constellation: Aquarius
Distance: 40 light years
Temperature: -21.8 °C
Mass: 0.62 ME

TRAPPIST-1e is an exoplanet orbiting its star TRAPPIST-1 in the habitable zone. TRAPPIST-1, also designated as 2MASS J23062928-0502285, is an ultra-cool red dwarf star located 39.6 light-years (12.1 pc) from the Sun. It is slightly larger but much more massive than the planet Jupiter.

Sources

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