Seen from about 6 billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles), Earth appears as a tiny dot (the blueish-white speck approximately halfway down the brown band to the right) within the darkness of deep space… pretty much like in Seuss‘ Horton hears a Who!, isn’t it?
…and, just like Seuss’ character – Horton – I’m fascinated with this pale blueish dot. Because it’s the place where I met everybody I love. And because it reminds me how blessed we are that, in the darkness of infinite space, we were lucky enough to be born on the same tiny speck of dust suspended in a sunbeam. Quite a miracle, if you ask me.
But how did this marvellous picture happen? The story goes like this:
The Pale Blue Dot is a photograph of planet Earth taken in 1990 by the Voyager 1 spacecraft from a record distance of about 6 billion kilometers from Earth, as part of the solar system Family Portrait series of images. In the photograph, Earth is shown as a tiny dot (0.12 pixel in size) against the vastness of space. The Voyager 1 spacecraft, which had completed its primary mission and was leaving the Solar System, was commanded by NASA to turn its camera around and to take a photograph of Earth across a great expanse of space, at the request of Carl Sagan.
After taking the Family Portrait images including the Pale Blue Dot, NASA mission managers commanded Voyager 1 to power its camera down as the spacecraft was not going to fly near anything else of significance in the near future, and other instruments that were still collecting data needed power for the long journey to interstellar space.
Subsequently, the title of the photograph was used by Sagan as the main title of his 1994 book, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, where he related his thoughts on a deeper meaning of the image:
From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. 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 Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, 1997 reprint, pp. xv–xvi
Yes, just like Seuss’ character – the goofy Horton – I’m beyond fascinated with this pale blueish dot. Because it’s the place where I met everybody I love. My awesome mom and my awesome dad. My grandparents. My friends. My doggies. Here is where my kids will blossom into life and here is where I’ll meet my grandkids. I ultimately love this pale blueish dot because it reminds me how blessed we are that, in the darkness of infinite space, we were lucky enough to be born on the same tiny speck of dust suspended in a sunbeam… and lucky enough to cross paths. An universe run by chaos. An universe of endless possibilities. Yet, we are here. Quite a miracle, if you ask me. 🙂
[Below] Sagan’s speech at Cornell University, October 13, 1994.