Wednesday, December 28, 2011

"A Pale Blue Dot"

Hard to see, but this is the NASA/JPL photo taken from Voyager 1
 that inspired Carl Sagan's view of  planet earth as "a pale blue dot" in a vast universe. 
Sometimes we need to put things in perspective. 

Carl Sagan (1934-1996), the brilliant astronomer, astrophysicist, scientific popularizer,  NASA advisor, and founder of The Planetary Society, did that when he looked at an image of the earth floating in space and fully comprehended that it was only “a pale blue dot.” 

The image was beamed back to earth from Voyager 1 on 14 February 1990 as the spacecraft left our planetary neighborhood for the fringes of the solar system.  Voyager 1 was about 4 billion miles away when it captured this portrait of our world, where earth appears as a tiny point of light, a crescent only 0.12 pixel in size. 

“Look again at that dot,” Sagan writes in his 1994 essay. “That’s home.  That’s us.”  Everyone and everything we know “on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam....The earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena.” 


How insignificant all the wars,  battles, conflicts and cruelties seem, how pointless.  “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.“  

My brother Loren loved Carl Sagan and uttered the phrase “a pale blue dot” everytime we looked at the sky together.  Loren was an avid advocate for the space program, for the explorations undertaken by Voyager.  Perhaps now he has an even better view, an even clearer perspective, and might be having some extraordinary conversations with Sagan himself.  Wouldn’t that be a wondrous miracle.

Carl Sagan combined skepticism and wonder, discovery and clarity.  He made us think.  He helped us put our life on planet Earth in perspective.  

"It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience," Sagan concluded his essay. "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." 
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