Sunday, December 05, 2010

Somewhere Out There

December 4 – Wonder. How did you cultivate a sense of wonder in your life this year?
(Author: Jeffrey Davis)

One word: Exoplanets.

From Formalhaut b to Gliese 581g, we're seeing a lot of planets outside our solar system, and we've only just started looking. Man, just LOOK AT THIS. Our tools are only going to get better. Our models of solar system formation and behavior are only going to get better. This is just the tip of a galactic iceberg! I don't think we'll find confirmation of extra-solar life anytime soon, but we can't even detect earth-sized exoplanets yet. Who knows what we'll have found in another 10 years?

I think that exoplanetology is rekindling my enthusiasm for space. The ailing shuttle program, the dismal prospects for a Mars mission any time soon (or even a manned moonshot) have been getting me down for the longest time. When I was growing up, we figured that habitable planets were really super rare, and we didn't even know how many *planets* there were at all in other systems. Now, all of that's changing, and it looks like some of our fears (or "pragmatic analysis") are proving wrong. There are plenty of planets out there, and many more red dwarf stars than we thought, too (with, of course, more planets of their own). And this is one tiny corner of one unspectacular galaxy. There must be trillions of trillions of planets out there, each with its own secrets, just waiting for us to uncover them.

It is a goddamn cool time to be alive


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