The opinions expressed here are well-reasoned and insightful -- needless to say they are not the opinions of my employers

20 December 2007

Pale Blue Dot

Phil Plait reminded me that Carl Sagan died 11 years ago today. I'm too old for this to be true, but Cosmos was what inspired me to a career in science. Better late than never.

In February 1990 the Voyager 1 spacecraft, by then 12.5 years and four billion miles from home, spun around to take a “family portrait” of our Solar System from about 32 degrees above the ecliptic. The image above is of Earth, a few pixels of blue against the blackness of space. The light streak is a ray from the sun, just off the image to the right.

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.

-- Carl Sagan in a commencement address, May 11 1996


castlewon said...

so beautiful

asking your permission to copy this to an e-mail, and send it on to live out its life as an interminable forward (to be seen by folks who would ordinarily never)

Richard Vantage said...

A lovely post that paints a vivid picture in the mind ... space just blows me away, how does one comprehend 4.5 billion miles .. it's just so incredible, there is no greater escape from life's daily pressures then to sit and stair at the stars on a clear night ... it is definitely a humbling experience ...

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