Regular readers know that I am a great lover of images astronomical. Some of you will roll your eyes. But this is because as a boy I used to sit in the New York Harden planetarium and wonder about the universe. I still wonder a lot. Very often these images show something that we never expected to see. They force us to see our relationship to nature and the cosmos very differently than our otherwise myopic Earth-bound viewpoint would allow. I know that it is a cliche but these images truly enable us to witness the “anvil of the gods” – the forge of Hephaestus.
So to that point I was inspired last week when a reader and colleague posted on Facebook a series of images taken between November 2013 to April 2015 with the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) on the Gemini South telescope in Chile and arranged in video format. It is a short video segment that actually shows the exoplanet β Pic b orbiting the star β Pictoris. We are seeing this from a vantage point 60 light-years away from Earth. In the video images, the star itself is physically obscured, so that the dim light of the planet makes it through. The scientific work was described on September 16 in the Astrophysical Journal.
It is barely twenty-five years that we have been detecting planets outside of our own solar system – so call exoplanets. This revolution in astronomy was achieved by some extremely clever scientific methodologies and it truly represents a point of revolution in human thought. Still suffering from Earth-bound nearsightedness we cannot yet truly understand where this will all take us. The significance of such “photographs” is that for vision sense-dominated humans “seeing is believing.” Once you see there is no going back.