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We live in an age of wonders, you know? When I was a kid - not that long ago in my estimation, an eyeblink ago to our forebears - we learned that planets were rare beyond our Solar System, and that Earthlike planets belonged primarily in science fiction. Then we learned that maybe a bunch of giant planets - failed stars, really - populated the galaxy. Once we started doing real searches with quality space-based equipment and modern ground-based uber-tech, we learned that maybe giant planets are common... and maybe Earth-sized planets are out there, too, but just difficult to find. Well, we soon learned that was true; and not just that Earth-sized planets are common, but that Earthlike planets are common.

Today, we believe that ALL STARS HAVE PLANETS. Whoah. Speaking of which:

I LOVE THIS CHART SO MUCH:


Click the image to see the full-size version. Tip: The hover-text really extends the image's sensawunda factor.


For your viewing pleasure and to help visualize the scope of our galaxy, I offer the Andromeda Galaxy, M31. It's the closest spiral galaxy to our own Milky Way, in terms of both size and distance:


Click the image to see the NASA photo.

Just imagine all those stars orbited by their own solar systems, perhaps cradles to other civilizations. How many are out there?

On a related note, want to read a snippet from the Prologue of Adventures of Jack and Stella? Here you go:

The Milky Way Galaxy, as the humans call it, is a barred-spiral whose glowing arms span the endless emptiness of space for about 30,000 parsecs, or 100,000 light-years (or 600 trillion human miles). It is shaped like a disk: Viewed edge-on, it is only a hundredth as thick as it is wide, just 300 parsecs or 1000 light-years (or 6 trillion miles) thin. Within those arms shine more than 300 billion stars, each a sun warming rocky debris beyond measure, thousands of comets, and a handful of planets – some of which are ringed by great disks of ice and rock, and many orbited by moons like miniature solar systems of their own. The Milky Way is slightly larger than the average galaxy, of which more than 100 billion populate the universe.

I hope that helps give a sense of the scope of these things, and just how many planets are whirling around their parent stars, out there in the dark.

Adventures of Jack and Stella progress:


(Yes, word-count went down from revisions and then back up. So it goes.)

Chris

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
holyoutlaw
Jun. 20th, 2012 09:35 pm (UTC)
There's an old quote from the 19th century, when someone asked an astronomer if he thought there was life on other planets: "If they be inhabited, what a vast scope for misery and folly. If they be not inhabited, what an awful waste of space." -- so maybe you were referring to that. I don't remember who said it, sorry.
(Deleted comment)
mckitterick
Jun. 20th, 2012 10:12 pm (UTC)
That's a fantastic quote, and I also first heard it via Sagan's work.
holyoutlaw
Jun. 21st, 2012 12:00 am (UTC)
To make sure I wasn't misremembering, I did a quick Google and got this:

If they be inhabited, what a scope for misery and folly; if they be na inhabited, what a waste of space.

— Attributed to Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) on the first page of John Burroughs' 1920 book Accepting the Universe. It may have been the inspiration for a more optimistic line in the 1997 movie Contact.


From: http://www.spacequotations.com/setiquotes.html

I remember it from a class somewhere along the line.
mckitterick
Jun. 20th, 2012 10:13 pm (UTC)
...and almost impossible to imagine that we could be the only life. I WANT TO FIND XENOLIFE NOW.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )