Accepted Paper:

Exoplanetology as "proximisation" policy  


Eve Seguin (Université du Québec à Montréal)

Paper short abstract:

Combining the technical and scientific interests of several disciplines, exoplanet research turns out to be an exoplanet "proximisation" policy. Astronomy is thus a political endeavour in much the same way as 19th century microbiology.

Paper long abstract:

The idea that planets exist outside our solar system dates back to 1584 when Giordano Bruno postulated that an infinite number of planets circle around their suns. After several false detections, the first exoplanetary system was confirmed in 1992. Thereafter, the search intensified and is highly successful with hundreds of exoplanets already confirmed and thousands awaiting confirmation.

Astronomers typically depict their search for exoplanets as a means to answers two questions. 1. What are the origins of life? 2. Is there life elsewhere? Exoplanets may seem to be as remote from any political agenda as they are from Earth, and exoplanet research may look like a pursuit of knowledge devoid of any practical implication. Things change when we acknowledge that exoplanetology lies at the intersection of several disciplines.

First, one significant feature of exoplanetology is that several planets have already been identified that share crucial features of the Earth, namely the size and orbiting zone. Such planets are of utmost importance for subcategories of researchers, especially radiobiologists. Secondly, exoplanets provide astronautical engineers and organizations with new and more challenging target destinations outside our solar system.

This paper will show that exoplanet research combines astronomers' scientific concerns with other technical and scientific interests. Our aim is to demonstrate that exoplanetology turns out to be an exoplanet "proximisation" policy, and that astronomy is a political endeavour in much the same way as 19th century microbiology (Latour, 1983, 1984).

Panel A17
Making Outer Space