Friday, January 28, 2011

Extreme Planet Makeover


Remember when you were a little kid, and you'd get together with your friends to imagine you could re-create planet Earth to your own specifications? Or make an even bigger, better planet?

Me neither. But it would appear that the crack staff of savvy, intrepid geeks at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory think we should. The PlanetQuest team collaborated with Caltech to create the new interactive Extreme Planet Makeover, which allows users to create worlds all their own. Ah, world dominance... (that requires Flash 10).

Rules for habitable planets? Location, Location, Location! They don't call it the Galactic Habitable Zone for nothing. And I'm pretty sure that was the concept the JPL intended to teach here; it certainly does show the precarious nature inside the "zone of life" and displays why planets with life might be rare occurrences.

Extreme Planet Makeover
Planet Arch in the Red Star System

See that tiny island? That's the special hell reserved for people who talk at the theatre. The lesson in planetary science also includes "presets" for Earth, Mars and Gliese 581d (a rocky "super-Earth"), where you can begin with templates or create from scratch.

Users can choose stellar type: Class-G (Yellow, like our Sun), Class-F (White, like Polaris) or Class-M (Red, like Betelgeuse)… and once you have a star to orbit, will you make your extra-solar planet closer or further away from your star? Older or younger than our beautiful mother Earth?

Extreme Planet Makeover
MARS, if it were the same size as Earth, about half
an AU closer to our sun, and 2.2 billion years older.

Small-print but user-friendly dialog boxes of text pop up for each operation of the sliders, describing the scientific parameters and consequences of each adjustment. Further from your star? Expect to purchase clothing from the Hoth Fashion Line. Going back in time? Won't make much difference in a desert, but greenery will begin to enhanced on worlds with liquid water and ice caps.

Once you've finished creating an exoplanet over which you can rule, godlike in all thy splendor, click the camera icon to download a graphic.jpg to keep.

VERY INTERESTING: Start with the Mars preset. Make planet Mars a little bit bigger and move it slightly closer to a yellow or red sun, and it will be a waterworld…

EASY TO MISS: On the top right of the screen, be sure to click on the Planet Gallery

FUNNY TIP: Open the Extreme Planet Makeover game in 3 or 4 browser tabs at once, and listen to what happens to their music, LOL...

The EPM was developed in conjunction with NASA's Virtual Planetary Laboratory, where scientists build computer models of potentially habitable planets. Their main site can be found at Planet Quest Exoplanet Exploration: Searching For Earthlike Worlds, and don't miss the great history timeline!