Ever wonder what those planets orbiting far away stars are like?
Well, now there's an app for that.
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The free Kepler Explorer app for iPhone and iPad allows users to explore some 2,000 planetary systems discovered by NASA's Kepler Mission. The Kepler Mission scans the Milky Way galaxy in search of Earth-size planets in the habitable zones of the stars they orbit.
In short, it's laying the groundwork for finding other life-hosting planets. So far, the mission has found about 2,300 alien planet candidates in about 1,800 distant planetary systems.
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The Kepler Explorer app was developed by a team at the University of California, Santa Cruz and led by associate professor of astronomy and astrophysics Jonathan Fortney. Fortney says one goal of the app was too "keep information more on the lines of what we already know about planets," rather than root it in hypothetical guesswork.
The app begins with a drop-down menu that lists all the planetary systems discovered by the Kepler Mission. You can then move a slider to show planets' orbits around their respective stars.
By zooming in and navigating a given system, you're able to call up more information on specific planets. You can also show how a planet compares in size to its host star.
When viewing planets, you can also play with different possible compositions of their body and atmosphere, using elements such as iron, rock, water and hydrogen to try out combinations consistent with the Kepler Mission's findings.
Most of the planets found so far by the Kepler Mission are not hospitable to life. But, Fortney tells Mashable, some of the objects you can use the app on are potentially Earth-size temperate planets" -- meaning you could be playing around with some other beings' home.
Fortney believes the Kepler Explorer app will appeal to a wide range of audiences.
"There are certainly a lot of people who are very interested in astronomy," he says. "Astronomy is the science that the public keeps up with most, besides medicine."
Will you check this app out? Let us know in the comments.
Image courtesy University of California, Santa Cruz
This story originally published on Mashable here.