Science: The Star-Planet

Astronomers have long believed that the universe is teeming with planetary systems, some of which may contain worlds inhabited by intelligent life. Yet they have been hard-pressed to prove their case. Interstellar distances are so vast that even the most powerful telescopes on earth could not spot a planet orbiting the sun's nearest stellar neighbor, Proxima Centauri, which is a relatively scant 4.3 light-years (or about 26 trillion miles) away.

That statistic did not deter Astronomer Peter van de Kamp of Swarthmore (Pa.) College's Sproul Observatory. In the late 1960s, after years of...

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