And we really are exploring it, even if manned observation is only in the close Earth orbit of the international space station. Far-flung instruments continue to produce new knowledge--as well as some great photos.
The most recent photos come from Pluto, a world that has generally gotten little respect until now. Small and remote, demoted from planet status, so only a few scientists dare stake their careers on studying the meager information available, at least until the New Horizons spacecraft mission.
National Geographic piece, and yet very alien--fogs and glaciers of nitrogen instead of water, mountains that formed in some mysterious way, and so on. Yet it is not the bald featureless globe of prior illustrations. It is a place. Be sure to click on the photos here and at the NG piece--they're breathtaking.
Also this week:"NASA's confirmation of the existence of a vast global ocean on Enceladus casts a spotlight on Saturn's icy moon as the most potentially habitable spot beyond Earth in the Solar System for life as we know it," in the words of another excellent piece, this one at the Daily Galaxy.
It has liquid water, organic carbon, nitrogen [in the form of ammonia], and an energy source," said Chris McKay, an astrobiologist at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. Besides Earth, he says, "there is no other environment in the Solar System where we can make all those claims."
Yet it is not the only really good candidate for finding life in the solar system. (The others also are moons rather than planets. This Daily Galaxy piece is a good summary, with links.) It's news like this that prods my intuition that some form of life outside the Earth will be discovered in my lifetime.