Pale Blue Dot

For this post, I’m going to do something slightly different. I’m going to dedicate the majority of the text to an excellent quote by Carl Sagan, one of the most inspiring science writers of the 20th century. It’s a quote I feel every human being should read. It’ll need a short introduction.

In 1977, Nasa launched the Voyager 1 probe with the aim of exploring the distant gas giants of the solar system.  Although the mission officially ended as it left Saturn in 1980, the  probe continued to function. In 1990, at Carl’s behest, Nasa commanded the probe to turn  around and take a photomontage of our entire Solar System. On seeing the photograph of the Earth (below) captured at a distance of six billion kilometres, Carl Sagan remarked:

The Earth, shown here inside a blue circle

Consider again 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 – 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.

Carl died in 1996.



Filed under Space

2 responses to “Pale Blue Dot

  1. tweedlips

    I’ve come back to this posting several times, just to read it again and look at the picture. I could cry each time. It’s beautiful.

    I think to remember a “mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam” each morning, is as good as anything to carry in your pocket for the rest of the day.

    Thank you, Jack, for letting me know about it.

    Lovely blog, by the way! I’ve always been interested in science, but all the numbers and long words get in my way. It’s nice to have someone like yourself tell me stuff.

    Keep it up, duck! x

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