Up close with alien planets

Updated 1:32 PM ET, Tue December 10, 2019
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Artists such as Tim Pyle and Robert Hurt create renderings of exoplanets and other things in the universe we may never be able to otherwise see. Sometimes, the reality of the data they're working with aligns with scenes from the "Star Wars" films, such as Pyle's rendering of the Kepler-16 binary star system that creates a double sunset like the one on Luke Skywalker's home world, Tatooine.

Click through to see more of their work.
Their rendering of the TRAPPIST-1 star, an ultra-cool dwarf, shows the seven Earth-size planets that were discovered orbiting it. The design also shows where planets lie in the habitable zone around the planet. Ice around the outside of the image indicates it's too cold there for water to maintain liquid form, while steam close to the star shows its too hot. NASA/JPL-Caltech
"To me, planets around binary star systems will always be 'Tatooine' planets," Pyle said. This illustration was created to accompany a release revealing that mature planetary systems are more frequent around binary stars than single stars like our sun. NASA/JPL-Caltech
Kamino is an ocean world in "Star Wars: Attack of the Clones." Kepler-22b is an exoplanet that could similarly be covered in a super ocean. NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech
Kepler-452b is an Earth-size planet that orbits a star similar to our sun. It's been compared with the planet Coruscant in the "Star Wars" films and has been called "Earth's older, bigger cousin." NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech
Hurt was inspired by the volcanic world Mustafar from "Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith" to create this illustration of the hot, rocky exoplanet called 55 Cancri e. It is his favorite illustration from the past year, a "lava-covered world with sheets of gas pouring off of it." NASA/JPL-Caltech
Believe it or not, this is not a depiction of Alderaan being obliterated by the Death Star in "Star Wars: A New Hope." This is Pyle's concept of a young star surrounded by a debris disk or gas and dust, the birthplace of new planets. NASA/JPL-Caltech
When working on the concept for Kepler-186f, the first Earth-size planet in the habitable zone that could support liquid water on its surface, Pyle was careful to make it look less inviting than our own Earth, in case it was misconstrued as a friendly, habitable place. They made sure it was more muddy brown rather than green and blue. NASA/JPL-Caltech
"Probably the most famous graphic I've done is a top-down view of what the Milky Way would look like if we could go outside our galaxy and look at it," Hurt said. "The irony is, we live inside it, you think we would know it better than anything, but it turns out that's not so true. It's like being dropped down in Times Square and being asked to draw a map of all of Manhattan." NASA/JPL-Caltech
Pyle enjoyed working on this concept because he hadn't seen any examples of it before. It's an example of a brown dwarf with a strong weather system. Instead of liquid rain, the storms most likely consist of molten iron, sand or salts. NASA/JPL-Caltech
Hurt's depiction of a supermassive black hole is another iconic image that has come to be closely associated with the term. It also depicts an outflowing jet of energetic particles, believed to be powered by the black hole's spin. NASA/JPL-Caltech
A fan of the show "Babylon 5," Pyle enjoyed working on this depiction of the Epsilon Eridani star system, where the space station is located on the show. It is also the closest known planetary system to our own. NASA/JPL-Caltech
"A star that's cool enough to have stormy planet-like clouds forming in its atmosphere," Pyle said. "I worked with an exoplanet theorist who helped refine the look of the cloud structure." NASA/JPL-Caltech
Hurt offers another look at a young star surrounded by a dusty protoplanetary disk that contains the raw material to form planets as the star system matures. NASA/JPL-Caltech
What would a storm of comets around a star look like? Hurt's illustration of Eta Corvi shows how comets are torn to shreds after colliding with a rocky body. NASA/JPL-Caltech