NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has created a new game allowing would-be creators of the universe to build their own planet.
That’s my planet, at the ripe age of 5.72375 billion years, in the neighborhood of a Class F star. Extreme Planet Makeover starts with an Earth-like planet, which sits in the sweet spot of size and distance from its sun. The game provides a panel of controls to fiddle with the planet’s age, size, what type of star it’s near and how far away it is. But if you pull your planet away from its star, you can watch it become lifeless. You can also check out the habitat for potential life on Mars and Gliese 581d, a planet thought to have the potential to harbor life.
The game may be simple, but when you build your own planet you’re imitating the work that astrobiologists are doing, albeit with much more powerful computers. The Virtual Planet Laboratory, a team of scientists who are building computer simulations of Earth-sized planets, created the Extreme Planet Makeover. Their goal is to discover the likely range for habitable planets around other stars.
Scientists have discovered over 100 planets outside our solar system, but right now, the only model of a habitable planet is our own Earth. In order to look for life on other planets, scientists want to come up with a good idea of a signature of life or a way for scientists to recognize a planet that might support life. The software that the Virtual Planet Laboratory is developing will be used to support NASA’s search for extraterrestrial life. One thing I can guarantee: It’s much easier to build your own planet with NASA than it will be for NASA to find life on other planets.
Learning to love science. As a producer for EarthSky, Lindsay Patterson interviews some of the world's most fascinating scientists. Through EarthSky, her work content is syndicated on some of the world's top media websites, including USAToday.com and Reuters.com. Patterson is also charged with helping to stay in steady communication with the thousands of scientists who contribute to EarthSky's work of making the voice of science heard in a noisy world. She graduated from Colorado College with a degree in creative writing, and a keen interest in all forms of journalism and media.