Over the next few years, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory plan to cook up a series of planets based on recipes and play around with the ingredients. But they won’t be using real materials — it will all be done in cyberspace. The ultimate goal is to simulate a plausible range of habitable planets, and to find out how they might appear to planet-finding missions of the future.

Dr. Vikki Meadows is principal investigator of the Virtual Planetary Laboratory, a project that was selected as a new lead team for the NASA Astrobiology Institute to create tools that will simulate a diverse range of planets and life forms.