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Seen from 6 billion kilometres (3.7 billion miles), Earth appears as a tiny dot.

“Pale Blue Dot” is a photograph of planet Earth taken in 1990 by the Voyager 1 space probe from a record distance (6 billion km), showing it against the vastness of space. Both the idea for taking the distant photo and the title came from scientist and astronomer Carl Sagan, who also wrote the 1994 book of the same name.

In a commencement address delivered May 11, 1996, Sagan related his thoughts on the deeper meaning of the photograph:

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.

Those words often bring me close to tears. I don’t write nearly as well as Sagan did, but I think I understand, at least in some small part, his sense of wonder at the grandeur of the physical universe. It’s not just his curiosity as a scientist that I admire, though: Sagan wasn’t simply a dispassionate astronomer who concerned himself only with the heavens above us. He was a great believer in humanity’s potential for greatness, and he reveled in the story of how a group of ape-like creatures from Africa rose to where they now are – in a position to begin understanding the universe and their place in it.

My worldview is, I like to think, similar to Sagan’s. And while much of the content of this blog will be about mundane and trivial things (human “follies” and “conceits”, I suppose), I hope that whoever’s reading this will, just every once in a while, come across something that makes him/her think – about the universe, and about us (humanity) as a whole.

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2 Comments

  1. Just wanted to say I really like what you’re doing with this blog. I’m sure Sagan would be proud.


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