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COLUMN: Let’s get more excited about space



In recent months, elements of society in the 1970s have become ever-present again in American culture. Think a constant uneasiness toward the U.S. relationship with Russia, new "Star Wars" movies and flare jeans. 

There seems to be one large piece of culture millennials should also bring back from the decade of disco: an avid interest in space exploration. 

Earlier this week, astrophysicist Xinyu Dai and researcher Eduardo Guerras discovered, through testing done using methods derived from Einstein’s theory of relativity, a cluster of planets outside of the Milky Way galaxy. To put that in terms of distance, there is a cluster of planets 3.8 billion light years away.

This discovery comes after more than a decade of truly incredible developments surrounding space exploration. The effects of the Big Bang were mapped out for the first time, water was found on the moon and small planets outside of our solar system, known as exoplanets, were found orbiting stars just 25 light years from Earth.

However, in an age where people can call out to Alexa to have their groceries delivered to their house or warm up their car with a touch of a phone button, technology that drastically improves facets of our everyday lives is what tends to amaze people. 

In terms of physical exploration, space is truly the only place left to leave us awestruck. IU astrobiologist Lisa Pratt, who has recently become a planetary protection officer at NASA, is protecting this capacity for awe by ensuring Martian microbes and other extraterrestrial lifeforms don't contaminate our planet — and that our own microorganisms don't contaminate any of the new worlds we may one day reach. 

Many a travel account on Twitter takes us to Bali, Morocco and Peru from the comfort of our own beds with high-resolution videos, documentaries and photos. We know more about the depths of the ocean than ever before from ocean photography. And we can learn about other cultures from blogs and interviews with people from each and every country.

There is very little left to the imagination anymore in terms of the physical unknown. And the gap between what we know and what we do not is closing at an increasing pace as we create technologies to address our knowledge-seeking needs. 

Space is truly the final frontier for new types of lifeforms we know nothing about, for types of science that have not even been discovered yet and for natural phenomena that cannot be completely captured with a nice Nikon camera. 

We are in awe of so many little technological advancements, but it’s time to focus our attention back on this truly incredible branch of research. The idea of the great beyond, and all the possibilities that lie within it, can leave us with hope and excitement we just can’t get from many places on Earth anymore. 

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