Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Pale Blue Dot

In 1990, NASA commanded the Voyager 1 spacecraft, having completed its primary mission, to turn around to photograph the planets it had visited. NASA ultimately compiled 60 images from this unique event into a mosaic of the Solar System. One image Voyager returned was of Earth, 4 billion miles distant, showing up as a "pale blue dot" in the grainy photo. The minute speck was nearly lost in the glare of the Sun.

Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space (1994) is a book by Carl Sagan. It is the sequel to Cosmos and was inspired by the "Pale Blue Dot" photograph, for which Sagan provides a sobering description.

"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. ... 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."