Pale Blue Dot


It’s the twentieth anniversary of the famous “pale blue dot” photo – Earth as seen from Voyager 1 while on the edge of our solar system (approximately 3,762,136,324 miles from home).

Voyager 1 was leaving the solar system, and the control group had enough time for one final set of instructions and manuevers before the craft was effectively beyond control. Various opinions were raised on what pictures it should take.

Pop scientist Carl Sagan, who was supreme at bringing complex science to the mainstream view and understanding of the layman, argued that Voyager should be pointed back to Earth – to show mankind what Earth really was like – what it’s real place is in the Galaxy. Just a pale blue dot. Many argued against him, saying the craft could take more useful pictures science-wise. Sagan won out and a final set of instructions was radioed out to the craft to turn about and take a final image of its disappearing home.

 Sagan’s words are always worth remembering:

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.

4 replies on “Pale Blue Dot”

  1. You’re welcome! I always really enjoyed anything M. Sagan wrote or presented. He was a great inspiration to me as a kid. I remember watching Cosmos and just being blown away!


  2. Pale-Blue-Dot Astronomers:

    Although Ptolemy thought the Sun revolved around the Earth, he also concluded that the Earth should be treated as a mathematical point in the Universe. Now, since a mathematical point is infinitely smaller the a “pale blue dot,” do we conclude that Ptolemy must be humbler, wiser, and “cooler” than modern astronomers? Well, maybe I’m being nasty and objective, when I should be misty-eyed and subjective. I might be a candidate for sensitivity training.

    Unlike Pale-Blue-Dot astronomers, I don’t try to feel-the-pain of the robbed (nor do I try to feel-the-pleasure of the robbers). To pretend to know the pain of others is to belittle the pain of others.

    From a comfortable armchair or a speaker’s podium, all human trials (pains, pleasures, joys, loves, etc.) can only be reduced to a “pale blue dot” by exceptional Pride – not insightful thinking. Trying to synthesize people with their planet is called Pantheism – not Astronomy.

    Best Regards,

    Frank Hatch
    Initial Mass Displacements

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