The Star Wars universe has some of the most iconic looking planets ever to be seen on the big screen. From arid planets such as Jakku and Tatooine to watery worlds such as Kamino and Scarif, the places shown in the movies have captured the imaginations of moviegoers for decades.
Now, NASA plans to use these colorful Star Wars worlds as inspiration in its hunt for other planets. With about 3,400 alien worlds already identified by scientists, there's bound to be some that would look and feel like those in George Lucas' fantasy universe.
Desert Planets Like Jakku and Jedha
Two planets prominently featured in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story are Jakku and Jedha, respectively. The first one is the world where the unlikely hero Rey grew up alone, while the second one is where the Galactic Empire mined kyber crystals to power the Death Star's massive laser.
NASA astrobiologist and climate scientist Shawn Domagal-Goldman said such desert planets do exist in the real universe, and Mars is just one example.
He explained that Lucas' fascination with adding arid planets in his Star Wars universe might just be a reflection of our own galaxy.
"The recurring theme of desert worlds in 'Star Wars' is really interesting, because there is some research that shows that these would be likely habitable worlds to find," Domagal-Goldman said.
Real-life desert planets could look very hot like Jakku and Tatooine, but there are also those that are very cold like Jedha and Mars.
Domagal-Goldman also pointed out that desert planets make habitable worlds because of the lack of water. He said that water has a way of amplifying the effects of climate changes and can also cause celestial bodies to become extremely hot much like the planet Venus, or extremely cold much like the moon Europa.
Ocean Worlds Like Kamino And Scarif
Another type of world featured in the Star Wars films is one with massive oceans. Kamino and Scarif are two such planets where terrestrial areas are virtually engulfed by huge bodies of water.
So far, researchers have yet to confirm the existence of an exoplanet with a large ocean. However, there are those that have frozen bodies of water, such as Enceladus and Europa in our galaxy.
Some scientists are hopeful that we will be able to see ocean worlds on exoplanets in the near future. Professor Victoria Meadows from the University of Washington is one those who are optimistic.
Meadows, who is also head of the Virtual Planetary Laboratory at NASA's Astrobiology Institute, said glints from oceans can be detected even from very far distances.
The liquid methane seas found on Saturn's moon Titan were first observed using the glint that was reflecting from them.
Almost all planets shown in the Star Wars films are inhabited. Some feature diverse and highly developed civilizations, while others have simple and somewhat primitive societies. NASA hopes to find such life on other planets.
The space agency has already lined up several projects aimed at discovering life forms in distant worlds. Both the James Webb Space Telescope and the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) are tasked with observing the atmosphere of exoplanets.
NASA is also hoping that the Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) will soon be able to provide scientists with images of distant planets located near sun-like stars.
Star Wars may be a work of fiction, but NASA is willing to bet there are planets out there in the real-life universe that are just like those seen on film.