Take a long, hard look at this little animation. It may not look like much at first. A small collection of blue spots, swirling around a mass of light. But what you’re looking at is a system of alien planets orbiting a young star named HR 8799, 129 light years away.
Think about that for a while. It wasn’t too long ago, astronomers were debating if it was even possible for us to study planets elsewhere in the galaxy. Now you’re sitting there, wherever you are, watching an animation made over the course of 7 years, showing a brief snapshot of another system of planets in motion. Planets so distant that when the light captured in these images left that star system, electricity was still new to humans. Planets so distant that by the time light leaving that system right now reaches us here on Earth, you and I will be gone.
And yet, this image, humbling as it may be, is full of inspiration. Our galaxy is teeming with planets. Some like the ones here in our own Solar System, and some which may be so different we can scarcely imagine. What, or who, is waiting on those planets for us to find? That’s an exciting question which remains for us to answer. And for as long as there are still humans to ask that question, there will still be so much more out there to answer it with.