Friday, November 14, 2008

Planet dreams

Two teams of astronomers have released photos of four planets outside our solar system, including one which is apparently the first such image in visible light, and another which is the first image showing multiple planets in the same system.

Recently I posted about an exoplanet photo taken in near-infrared light.

I find myself captivated by the ongoing developments in the hunt for exoplanets. A field that had nothing to study only a decade ago suddenly has hundreds of data points. Most of the planets found so far seem to be gas giants unlikely to harbor life. But as instruments and techniques improve, it surely is only a matter of time before a blue Earth-type planet is photographed. That will be a great moment for all of humanity, and one I hope to live to see.

When I was a boy in the 1970s I dreamed of the day when I would see humans walk on Mars. That dream seems just as distant now as it did then. But this is one space dream that just might come true in my lifetime. In a month where a mixed-race African American from Hawaii can be elected President of the United States, and where India can land a probe on the moon, I am allowing myself to believe a little bit that anything is possible.