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Watching the world change

3 Feb 2011, 22:23 UTC
Watching the world change
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World-changing events come in many guises. Sometimes they are highly visible, like the launch of Sputnik, the fall of the Berlin Wall, or the current political upheaval in the Arab world. We rarely know what the eventual outcome and import of such events will be, but there is little doubt that what has happened is Important and will impact us all.

Other world-changing events are more subtle, with impacts that take a long time manifest themselves, but are no less dramatic. The invention of the telegraph and the creation of the Internet were not trumpeted by the forebears of Anderson Cooper swooping in with live reports, but events like these inexorably led to a changed world. (The first public demonstration of the telegraph by Samuel Morse was in 1838; his famous "What Hath God Wrought" message was not sent until 1844. Seven years later, Western Union was founded, and the rest is history.)

Yesterday, NASA and its Kepler Mission team announced a small landslide of new planets and planet candidates. In one announcement, the number of known/suspected planets went from just over 500 to over triple that number, at around 1700. Not only that, but the number of known Earth-sized ...

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