Seeing a picture of a planet, orbiting a star hundreds of light years away, puts things into perspective — the universe is vast, unknowable, unimaginable.
I mention this, because the Gemini Observatory has released a telescopic photograph of an extrasolar planet. A planet! Orbiting another sun! We’ve known for two decades that they exist, but we know it indirectly, through the effect of the planets’ masses on the stars they orbit. Here is a picture of a place. Not just any place, but a planet. Hundreds of light-years away, across an unfathomable gulf of space.
Want to feel small? That picture will make you feel small. Imagine looking up into the night sky, seeing a prick of light, just one, in the canopy of stars. And realizing that that single point of light is a place. A place as big and as vast and as amazing as where you sit reading this, and from the vantage of that prick of light, where you sit is just as remote and as small as the light you see.
On a dark night of still air and deep skies, you can feel the depths of space and take it all in, like a dream, and feel very small, like dust in the night. That feeling, when you find it, it will take your breath away.
Carl Sagan would be thrilled. Excited. Ecstatic.
A planet. A picture of a planet.