“This is Golden Age of Astronomy”

The title is the editor’s [sic] but the original article text is mine (slightly edited).  The Centre Daily Times is running a series of weekly columns on research at Penn State, and I was asked to write this week’s entry.

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I wanted to give readers a sense of both the perspective I have of how much we’ve learned within the lifetime of practicing astronomers, as well as a future perspective of how much we stand to learn in the near- and medium-term, along with some of the jargon they’ll see in the media.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the search for life in the Universe, and the distinctions between the hunt for planets capable of hosting life, for life itself, and for intelligent life (more on this later).  This entry reflects a draft of this thinking — how we, on one hand, look for the places life-as-we-know-it could flourish, and on the other we seek to know how we would know life-as-we-know-it if we found it. (I like to point out that we don’t really know how to search for life-as-we-don’t-know-it: that’s a big search space, with the exception of one dimension in that space, and how would you know life-as-we-don’t-know-it if you found it?  More about the exception next month.)
I can’t find a good link to all entries in the series (this is the second).  Here is the first, by Prof. Andrew Read regarding drug resistance.
Update: Here is the series.