I N T R O D U C T I O N
F R O M O U T E R S P A C E
T O O U T E R P L A C E
Concentrating on space, one encounters place.
—Peter Redfield, Space in the Tropics (2000)
Two young boys point up at the night sky, silhouetted against a lake reflect-
ing the oranges, blues, and purples of a sky at sunset. Even though we can-
not see their faces, their body language speaks an animated excitement. A
viewer of this scene, caught on camera by the boys’ mother, might won-
der what the kids are pointing to and why they are so excited. Sara Seager,
the mother, an MIT professor of planetary science and MacArthur fellow,
shared this picture with an audience at a conference on exoplanet astron-
omy, the study of planets orbiting stars other than the Sun. I sat among the
astronomers, listening and watching as Seager built off of the energy and
aspiration of the picture as she asked the audience to imagine that this pic-
ture was taken in the future. What might the boys be pointing to with such
excitement? For the assembled audience, the answer was obvious: they will
be pointing to a star known to have a planet just like Earth. Most known
exoplanets are exotic and strange, but Seager and her colleagues hope that
the future of their young field lies in the study of familiar, Earth-like plan-
ets. In searching for connections between Earth and other planets, today’s
planetary scientists refigure the night sky as teeming with worlds.
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