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Campus Puritans Come for an Astronomer—And His Byline

Campus Puritans Come for an Astronomer—And His Byline

Are we alone in the universe? It’s one of the most compelling existential questions facing humanity. And the past half-century has witnessed a revolution in our ability to scan the cosmos in search of an answer. When I was a university student, the possibility of discovering, much less observing, planets in other star systems seemed like science fiction. But that has changed. Thanks to orbiting observatories such as the James Webb Space Telescope, and huge ground-based telescopes such as the Keck Observatory in Mauna Kea Hawaii, astronomers could be on the cusp of finding evidence for life around one or more of the thousands of extrasolar planets (also known as exoplanets) that have now been discovered.

And yet, even as new technology allows humanity to peer into distant galaxies and answer profound questions about the universe, some scientists working in this field are being hounded by colleagues more focused on leading terrestrial outrage mobs than finding new discoveries in the heavens.

The existence of planets orbiting other main sequence stars (a category that includes about 90 percent of the stars in the universe) was first demonstrated in 1995, when Swiss astrophysicist Michel Mayor and Swiss astronomer Didier Queloz inferred the existence of a Jupiter-mass companion of the star 51…

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