A Menagerie of Outspoken Opinions on Science, World Politics, and Geek Culture

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Good Heavens

I'm an astronomy buff. I have been since I was about seven years old. I've got a pretty good grasp of how far a light-year - six trillion miles - actually is (it's far) and what it means for there to be more than four of them between our solar system and the nearest star. And because I understand the distance involved I also appreciate how amazing it is when we find planets orbiting other stars. Lots of other stars have been found to possess planetary systems, in fact ... some similar to ours, some radically different.

No planets like Earth have been discovered yet - they're too small to detect over such vast distances - but there are a few systems that look like they might have room for a rocky world in the right orbit for warmth, liquid water, and life. When I was a kid - not too long ago - actually making such discoveries was pure science fiction ... instead of hard data we had Carl Sagan with a bad haircut imagining where and how numerous such places might be. Now we actually know the size, orbit, and arrangement of dozens of other solar systems.

Hypothetical Watery Moon Posted by Hello

NASA is now announcing the discovery of four new extrasolar planets, one of which falls into an entirely new category of smaller, potentially rocky worlds. Science fiction to science in about 20 years. That's pretty good. And astronomer's haircuts have gotten better, too.

No politics today, kids, except to say that Rudy Giuliani's speech at the RNC last night was phenomenal. McCain did a great job too, but was necessarily more subdued. Rudy's was a barn burner, and a hell of a way to kick off the convention.