The One with the Pale Blue Dot

“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

A confluence of three events occurred in recent weeks: two were global news and one was personal. The Charlie Hebdo tragedy and the unity march in Paris (reported in a wonderful post by Caitlin Kelly) captured the world’s attention, and I finally watched the television series “Cosmos,” which had me riveted for days. My personal accomplishment pales in comparison of course, but sometimes in life timing is exquisite.

“Cosmos” ends with the following words from astronomer Carl Sagan and the short video below. He so eloquently puts the aforementioned global events into perspective.

 

February 14, 1990, Carl Sagan

The spacecraft [Voyager 1] was a long way from home. I thought it might be a good idea, just after Saturn, to have [it] take one last glance homeward. From Saturn, the Earth would appear too small for Voyager to make out any detail. Our planet would be just a point of light—a lonely pixel, hardly distinguishable from the many other points of light Voyager would see: nearby planets, far-off suns. But precisely because of the obscurity of our world thusly revealed, such a picture might be worth having.

It had been well understood by the scientists and philosophers of classical antiquity that the Earth was a mere point in a vast, encompassing cosmos, but no one had ever seen it as such. Here was our first chance, and perhaps also our last, for decades to come.

So here they are: a mosaic of squares laid down on top of the planets and a background smattering of more distant stars. Because of the reflection of sunlight off the spacecraft, the Earth seems to be sitting in a beam of light as if there was some special significance to this small world, but it’s just an accident of geometry and optics.

Pale Blue Dot

Earth as seen from Voyager 1, near Saturn

 

There is no sign of humans in this picture. Not our reworking of the Earth’s surface, not our machines, not ourselves. From this vantage point our obsession with nationalism is nowhere in evidence. We are too small. On the scale of worlds, humans are inconsequential—a thin film of life on a solitary lump of rock and metal.

Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us.

 

I’ll let the video (3 min.) take over from here.

Have a great weekend, everyone! 

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26 comments

  1. This certainly puts our world and attitudes in perspective. I loved Carl Sagan when I was young and will revisit the series. Thanks for the uplifting reminder of our shared humanity, human folly, and the need to cherish each other and the earth itself. –Patti

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  2. I love Cosmos and Carl Sagan. This post is so good… on the scale of worlds, humans are inconsequential, yet every day here at earth level, we humans are wrought with tragedy of epic proportions as well as the smallest joys…it’s one of the paradoxes of life that binds us all together. Thank you for this wonderful post… but did I miss your accomplishment announcement?

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    1. It’s so easy to forget (or maybe not realize) that there is a vast and active cosmos out there. It reminds me of that great quote from the film Casablanca: The problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The vastness of the universe is mind-blowing. On a universal scale, our little dot does seem insignificant.

    Last night was clear and cool here and the moon sat early. The stars were stunning.

    A good reminder the help us keep things in perspective, I think.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I wish I could see as many stars as you do, Bill. Unfortunately the city lights block almost all of them. But last night there was a glorious crescent moon with just a shadow of yellow light. It stopped me in my tracks.
      Thank you for stopping by!

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  4. I’ve watched that pale blue dot video several times. It never grows old. If anything, it grows more profound. We’re not taking very good care of our planet and when you think about horrible events like the attack on Charlie Hebdo, we’re not taking very good care of ourselves.

    Carl was such a cool guy.

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  5. My staunch atheist of a son once posted this same video on his FB page and said it gives him the “closest thing to a religious feeling he has ever felt” I had watched and loved the original Cosmos series.( I even had the soundtrack album =)), but didn’t know Erik had discovered and watched the original series all on his own and had become a huge admirer of Sagan. I’m glad his wise words are still finding an audience. Powerful stuff.

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    1. How wonderful that your son was so moved and inspired by the original series. Has he watched the new series? They’ve done a terrific job updating the information and graphics for a new generation. Word has it that they’ll be working on season 2 soon.

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