By Ray Stern
This is a picture of planets never before seen by humans, in solar systems far, far away. Okay, it may not look like much, but those red dots with the labels -- planets. Or so say their discoverers.
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Scientists and science lovers around the world today are celebrating the first pictures of planets orbiting a star other than the sun. Teams at the Keck and Gemini telescopes in Hawaii produced the above picture, while scientists at Berkeley used the Hubble Space Telescope to image the alleged planet in the eye-like image below. It's a groundbreaking moment in the search for other planets and possibly other life in the universe.
Astronomers have made major advances in searching for distant planets in the last 10 years, but till now it's all been based on methods that require a lot of imagination, such as inferring the existence of planets by measuring the infinitesimally small changes in the motion of its parent star.
Realists point out that trips to distant worlds will take hundreds or thousands of years (as measured on Earth) even at near-light speed. Spaceships that move that fast may not be seen in the 21st century, or even the 22nd.
Meantime, we can see the photographic proof the planets are out there. We can imagine the strange scenery, and dream about life that may exist elsewhere.