Rediscovering old friends

There’s something charming about finding the stars you learned about as a child revealed, one by one, to host planetary systems. Even the best optical telescope images from my childhood showed a bright spot, shining in the cold, empty darkness of space. But now that I’m grown up, it seems that as I get back in touch with them, I find they’ve got children. Fomalhaut, for example. Or Epsilon Eridani. Even Vega seems to have a debris disk, at least. That universe I learned about, with vast, empty, cold spaces surrounding isolated, lonely stars seems to be revealing itself to be something very different. Where many (most?) stars have some kind of icy or rocky system of satellites, and the planetary systems that form in many of these cases come in surprising and baffling diversity. The universe is getting more crowded, more interesting, and less empty, and the age of exoplanet searches is an exciting time to be working in planetary science and exploration.

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