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The Pale Blue Dot

About twenty years ago, Voyager 1 looked back toward it’s launching point and took the now famous “Pale Blue Dot” photograph. The arrow points to us. That’s Earth… from about 3.7 billion miles away, which is just a little bit outside our solar system. In the grand scale of the universe, that’s hardly any distance at all. Given that our sun is one of about 200 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy which is, in turn, one of an estimated 125 billion galaxies in the universe, Voyager 1 was sitting virtually on top of Earth when it took this picture.

We live on an mind-bogglingly tiny speck of dust.

Voyager 1 - Pale Blue Dot

Carl Sagan was much more eloquent than I, of course. His words in 1996 (from Wikipedia)…

Look again at that dot. That’s here, that’s home, that’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there รขโ‚ฌโ€œ on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

A very small stage, indeed.

6 Comments

  1. Bob Carlson says:

    “To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another…”

    I am currently about a third of the way through a fascinating book with this theme by Frans de Waal titled “The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society:”

    http://www.emory.edu/LIVING_LINKS/empathy/

    1. Dan says:

      The book looks great! I’m putting it on my Amazon wish list. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Thanks for the tip!

      1. Bob Carlson says:

        You are welcome. And now that I have finished the book, I see it, among other things, as a powerful argument in support of passage of a health care bill.

  2. Corvus says:

    I used to keep a printout of that quote and picture on my door. Never failed to awe and inspire me, and remind me (at the end of a long day) where and what I was.

    1. Dan says:

      That’s a great idea! Pardon my idea thievery, but I’m going to do that, too. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. Neece says:

    That little teeny blue dot really puts everything in perspective. Awe-inspiring!

    Also, look how far we’ve come! We were able to send out something deep into space to even get that picture! Think about where we were just 100 years ago! Amazing.

    Oh, and Carl Sagan was THE MAN. ๐Ÿ™‚

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