Distant Horizons: New Worlds in an Age of Discovery
November 18, 2014 - 1:00pm
CULC Room 144
Great voyages of exploration have always been driven in large part by an insatiable curiosity to know what is beyond the furthest horizon you can see. Five hundred years ago, the European exploration of the globe was a central feature of the expanding scientific and artistic explosion we call the Renaissance and Enlightenment. Today, we are once again witnessing an age of exploration and discovery, as we push beyond the shores of Earth, looking deep into the far reaches of space. You and I live in an age where, for the first time in human history, we are discovering and mapping alien worlds. Some of those worlds are not far from home, huddled around our own Sun but difficult to travel to. Some of those worlds are far across the Cosmos, spinning around other suns in other parts of the galaxy. For the first time in history, we are seeing and probing these worlds with the same age old questions in mind: Who are we? What is our place in the Cosmos? Are we alone?
In this talk, we'll talk about this new age of discovery in our own Solar System, and how our understanding of the Solar System has changed over the past 40 years, during the first reconnaissance of the Worlds of the Sun. We'll preview the upcoming visit to Pluto, and use that as motivation to explore how the discovery of exoplanets around other stars is shaping our understanding of whether our home around the Sun is commonplace or unique in the catalogue of planetary systems.