After all, using current space-travel technology, it would take at least 159,000 years to cover the 369 trillion kilometres between your local space port and the Trappist-1 star. And that's before you clear customs!
The good news: Our own planet is home to plenty of landscapes that outshine even those cool artist renderings of other worlds. Indeed, these nine will make you feel like you’ve landed on a fantastic, faraway planet — but with no space suit required:
“The Door to Hell,” Turkmenistan
Imagine crawling out of the crater created by a crashed spaceship, and looking back to see — what? A fiery fissure in a desolate desert landscape, perhaps? The scene could very well resemble the 70-metre-wide cleft in central Turkmenistan (pictured above) that was formed not by an errant rocket, but by natural gas drilling gone awry. In 1971, the ground beneath a Soviet rig collapsed, leaving a massive burning chasm that geologists thought would stop smouldering in a matter of days. More than four decades later, however, it’s still going strong, drawing bus tours and earning the site its evocative nickname.
The Pinnacles, Nambung National Park, Australia
Mars will almost certainly be our first interplanetary stop, but spoiler alert: We already know the Red Planet is mostly rocky desert. Sound boring? Not so fast: Australia’s Outback is largely rocky desert, yet it often amazes with geological oddities like the Bungle Bungle Range (read on for more on this) and The Pinnacles, thousands of surreal limestone monoliths that rise from the ochre sands of Western Australia’s Nambung National Park. The stones, some as tall as streetlights, resemble jagged fangs, weathered tombstones — even camouflaged Martians waiting for the moment to strike!
If the tourism industry of the 25th century goes looking for a “spa planet,” it could very well resemble this World Heritage Site. Its name means “Cotton Castle” in Turkish, but it’s not a castle and it isn’t made of cotton: The oblong hill’s gentle slopes are in fact covered with travertine terraces, layers of hardened calcium carbonate that spews from hot springs on the summit. As it flows downhill, the mineral-rich (and harmlessly radioactive) spring water fills and shapes the chalky terraces, while slowly sculpting whimsical caves and cliffs — and drawing bathers by the busload.
Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
From above, the true nature of America’s largest hot spring is anyone’s guess. Volcano? Meteor crater? Alien swimming pool? Amoeba? A couple of those efforts aren’t that far off: the underlying Yellowstone Caldera, one of the world’s largest active volcano fields, delivers the geothermal jolt that heats the football field-sized pond to a toasty 70 degrees Celsius. The gorgeous colours, meanwhile, come courtesy of pigmented bacteria that feed on dissolved minerals.
Luke Skywalker would feel right at home in and around this bone-dry lakebed in the southern reaches of the vast Namib Desert. Like the Jedi knight’s home planet of Tatooine, Sossusvlei is famous for its towering sand dunes, some of which are nearly 400 metres tall. The area’s petrified dunes — ancient red sand hills that have turned to stone — also draw Jeep-driving visitors, as does the aptly named Deadvlei, another salt and clay pan where the haunting remains of acacia trees are all that remains of a long-departed desert oasis.
Lake Myvatn, Iceland
If it’s cosmic enough for the Apollo 11 crew, it’s cosmic enough for this list. NASA trained its astronauts for moonwalks on the barren lava fields surrounding this volcanically formed lake, which is also ringed with spectacular craters, steaming hills, lava pillars and bubbling mud pits. Myvatn’s lively volcanism shouldn’t be trifled with — what with the lack of safety ropes and all — but it turns out visitors may have more to fear from tiny, biting bugs in a spot whose Icelandic name means “Midge Lake.”
Purnululu National Park, Australia
This remote World Heritage Site in Western Australia looks like the setting for “Journey to the Bee Planet,” or some other forgotten sci-fi flick from the 1950s. The park’s main draw, the Bungle Bungle Range, looks uncannily like a sea of towering orange and black beehives — and with a name that’s so similar to “bumble,” well, it’s almost too B-movie-worthy to be true. The sandstone domes tower hundred of metres over palm-filled gorges and gullies, some of which are adorned with ancient aboriginal carvings depicting, among other things, techniques for harvesting honey.
Göreme National Park, Turkey
If one of the aforementioned B-movies landed an “X” rating, however, its setting might resemble the decidedly phallic landscape of the historic Cappadocia region in central Turkey. Sandstone “fairy chimneys” loom over an area known locally (and euphemistically) as the “Valley of Love,” which over the centuries has proven ideal for the construction of intricate cave dwellings (and dirty jokes). These days, tour operators offer balloon flights over the bizarre region, providing prime views of its honeycomb cliffs and volcanic cones.
Meteor crater, Arizona
Unlike the Earth, some planets aren’t shy about showing off their meteor craters, which is why this cosmic impact site in the Arizona desert feels so otherworldly. Also known as the Berringer Crater — named after the family that owns the site – the 1.2-kilometre-wide, 120-metre-deep pockmark was created about 50,000 years ago when a mansion-sized meteorite slammed into the ground at around 40,000 kilometres per hour. The 10-megaton blast vaporized most of the space rock, but left what the Berringer family calls “the most well known, best preserved meteorite crater on Earth,” which these days can be explored via a visitor centre with movie theatre and gift shop — where a bag of “Authentic Crater Dust” can be had for $11.25.