Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Space.com has a nice article on this subject here, though I would disagree a tad on the statement that we're in a golden age of astronomy already because I don't think it will happen until we have discovered other Earth-like planets, because that will signal a shift in psychology as well as just a shift in data volume and precision. That is, when we are observing planets that may be just like our own we will be observing them with a vastly different mindset than when we observe planets that we're almost completely certain aren't capable of supporting life.
Nevertheless, the article is true in that astronomy is getting better and better thanks to the wealth of telescopes in space as well as better and better observatories on the ground (the Large Binocular Telescope for example is a new one). In fact, there's now so much data that we often need to harness the power of the internet just to classify it all, and every once in a while you read about a discovery of a new planet or something else that was actually made by poring over old data instead of making completely new observations. At the same time though this data is growing at an exponential rate while the human population is growing at a much slower one, so the problem of too much data for qualified people to handle may just get worse. That's a very nice problem to have to work on though. It's like having too much money to spend.
One other article you might be interested in is this one, on what it feels like to look at the Earth from above. Unfortunately the discussion below the article has turned into an all too typical theism vs. atheism debate, as one person mentioned the word "maker" whereupon another said religion = brainwashing or something to that effect, and everything went downhill from there.