NASA's new apps let you explore distant Earth-like worlds – and take selfies

NASA Selfies

NASA has launched two new apps to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the launch of its Spitzer Space Telescope: a breathtaking VR tour of the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system, and a kid-friendly Snapchat-like affair that lets them see themselves as astronauts floating over a nebula. 

TRAPPIST-1 is the only known system with seven Earth-sized planets that could contain water. Spitzer (together with Hubble and Kepler) provided essential information to help scientists determine the planets' composition, but they're too distant to observe directly so Expolanet Excursions uses artists' impressions to plunge you into the system and show how its worlds compare with out own.

The app is available for Oculus and HTC Vive, and NASA has produced a 360-degree video of the experience if you don't have a compatible headset.

Space shutters

The NASA Selfies app (available to download free for Android and iOS) is much simpler, and aimed at younger users. Snap a selfie, and the app will paste you into a 'virtual spacesuit' in front of a stunning full-color image from Spitzer.

The resulting collage is accompanied by a panel of facts, and kids can share the results on social media. It might not carry the same social caché as Ariana Grande's new Snapchat Lenses, which also launched today, but it's far more educational.