Explore NASA’s TRAPPIST-1d exoplanet discovery in glorious 360-degree VR

[NASA’s release yesterday of a 360 degree VR panorama so that we can all experience what it would be like to be on a newly discovered planet demonstrates the recognition of the value of presence. The story below is from Wired UK, where it includes the 1:23 minute interactive video and two different images. More media recreations related to the discovery are available from NASA. –Matthew]

Explore Nasa’s TRAPPIST-1d exoplanet discovery in glorious 360-degree VR

The 360-degree Nasa VR panorama animates the surface of a newly detected planet, TRAPPIST-1d

By Victoria Woollaston
Thursday 23 February 2017

Last night, Nasa revealed it had spotted seven Earth-like exoplanets orbiting around the nearby TRAPPIST-1 star, 40 light years away.

The planets in the extrasolar system are all comparable to our planet in their size, mass, and densities, and at least three are in the so-called habitable zone meaning there could be water on their respective surfaces. And where there is water, there is the potential for alien life.

Individually called TRAPPIST-1b, c, d, e, f, g and h, the seven planets are named in order of their distance from the star, which has an eight per cent mass of our Sun, is just 12 per cent of its size and is 39 light years away from Earth. Google has even designed a Doodle to mark the occassion.

As part of the exoplanet discovery, the space agency released a series of gorgeous artist’s illustrations of the individual planets, as well as the system, a retro travel poster advertising TRAPPIST-1e and a 360-degree panorama which lets you virtually journey to the surface of TRAPPIST-1d – the third planet from the TRAPPIST-1 star.

The animation, which can be viewed on YouTube but is best experienced through a VR headset, is based on the latest scientific data about this planetary system. Standing on the surface, TRAPPIST-1d’s sister planets can be seen as bright points of light in the distance.

Exoplanets are simply planets that exist outside of our own solar system, and recent discoveries in the field have included Proxima b and the findings of the Kepler mission.

Despite the scale of the system, the first details about the TRAPPIST-1 star and three of the exoplanets were revealed previously by Michaël Gillon of the Institut d’Astrophysique et Géophysique at the University of Liège in May 2016. At the time, the researchers said TRAPPIST-1, also known as 2MASS J23062928-0502285, was a “world first discovery” as the atmospheres of the planets were in reach of telescopes for the first time.

However, after studying the system further, Gillon and colleagues discovered their initial observations were wrong. “The signal we thought was one planet was in fact two other planets,” Triaud said. “As time went on, we realised we had a system with a pretty incredible number of planets.”

The 360-degree exoplanet discovery video works on a desktop browser on Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Opera. To view it on your phone, use the YouTube app.

The research was published in the journal Nature.

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