You might need to dust your laptop or desktop monitor to see this one clearly. You see a tiny dot in the photo above? In the middle of that light colored line? That is Earth, how it looks from the edge of the solar system. This famous photograph, that I discovered only today is called the Pale Blue Dot (actually it is the representation of earth in the photo that they are talking about here, but you get my drift).
In early 1990, Voyager 1 spacecraft, after almost 12 years of its launch, was leaving the Solar System and was at a distance of 6 billion kilometers from Earth. It was instructed by NASA at the request of the noted astrophysicist Carl Sagan, to turn its camera around to take one last photo of Earth before it was lost forever. The reason behind Sagan’s request was less about the astronomy and more about giving mankind a bit of a perspective about their existence.
And this is why, I think everyone should be asked to contemplate this photo at least once, if not occasionally to get a sense of their place in the Universe.
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.
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.
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.
If you want, you can actually hear him say this on Youtube. A life changing perspective, if there ever was one.
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