First whisper of extragalactic planets

We don’t measure life by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away. For me, the first hint of a planet calling not just a different sun, but a different galaxy home, was one such moment.

I remember when the existence of any planets outside our own solar system was seriously questioned; even intelligent astronomers fell victim to the religionist’s trap of thinking we, and the little rock we live on, are somehow ‘special’. We’re not, of course: we’re just the end product of a (continuing) process of random mutation and natural selection egged by viral vectors snipping out and inserting bits of genes here and there between species. The physics that drove dust to collect in swirls around stars until it got lumpy enough to grow by its own gravitation are the same everywhere, or at least for a very very long way beyond little Sol.

Hundreds of extrasolar planets have been discovered by their wobbles; a few have been observed directly; we’re now getting to the point where earth-sized rocks, not gas giants, start to open up to our lightyears-distant probing. In not too many years we may have tools for detecting water and carbon on these rocks, rocks like Earth.

And I believe that when we finally get out there, whether by instruments or vehicles, there’ll be planets in our galaxy (and those beyond it) as teeming with life as our own little Earth. Things that crawl sightless on ocean floors; things that soar in the thinnest gases; things that shuffle and scuttle and wriggle, and maybe – just maybe – things that walk and talk.

I just hope I’m around long enough for the conclusive proof that we’re not alone in this universe.

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