Look! See the Distant Planet, Orbiting a Distant Star?
That’s right. What you see is a really big gas giant planet in orbit around someone else’s sun. It is not a computer simulation or an artist’s rendering of what might be, but an actual world, Beta Pictoris b, bathed in light from its own honest to goodness star, Beta Pictoris. Cool huh? Thanks go to the Gemini Planet Finder.
Now go out on a clear night and look to the East a couple of hours after sunset (sometime soon after I write this). See that bright light in the sky? That is Jupiter, the largest of our own gas giants.
It must shepherd a number of moons too, tugging them along with it like a flock on its long journey around the star. You can’t see them, but you can think of no reason to imagine that they’d be missing. The planet would appear lonely without them.
It also has Lagrange points that it shares its orbit with. It is fundamental to orbiting bodies and all of the planets that orbit Sol have them. Picture, in your mind’s eye view, some rock stuck there in the planet’s sky just tagging along, suspended as if by an unseen hand.
Somewhere, much nearer the star, shrouded in its brilliance, are the rocky little places that we rather euphemistically call “Earth-like”. None of them look exactly like Earth of course, and Beta Pictoris is very young so you won’t find anything even remotely like Earth orbiting it. But if but you close your eyes you can make one! Form a blue globe, splotched with interconnected browns and greens for land masses. Put small, irregular patches of pure white at opposite ends, and surround it with willow wisps of clouds twirling and dancing close over its surface.
Now zoom in close. See those two little people down there, straining their necks to look up at the sky?
What are they doing there? Why did they stop to gaze at the stars?
Tell the world their story. 😉