In 1990, the Voyager 1 spacecraft completed its primary mission, having completed its Saturn fly-by. One of the last instructions sent to the spacecraft by NASA was for it to take photographs of all the planets in the Solar System from its present position.
One photo–that of the Earth from approximately 4 billion miles away, has become one of the most popular photographs in our times. On the grainy image, the Earth barely appears as an insigificant blue dot–a indicator of our place in the vast universe and the fragility of the totality of human experience.
Many videos have since been published to honor the photograph. I’ve selected the two videos below to give a better appreciation of the photo. The first is a finalist at the Portobello Film festival in London, and the Concorto Film festival in Italy 2007. It ends with a quote from Sagan about the importance of maintaining a skeptical mindset, which is very appropriate for this blog. The second video below features an actual speech from Carl Sagan on his thoughts about the Pale Blue Dot.
A transcript of Sagan’s speech from wikipedia: (read in the second video above):
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 – 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.