A pale blue dot which we call “home”
April 12 is Human Space Flight Day. A day where space pioneers like Gagarin and Armstrong are remembered, and human excellence celebrated. The visionary scientist and educator Carl Sagan made sure a photo was taken, from deep space, of our precious home, the Earth.
When the Voyager 1 space probe had completed its primary mission and was leaving the Solar System, Carl Sagan asked NASA to do him, and humanity a favour. “Could you turn Voyager’s camera and take one last photograph of Earth?” That was from a distance of about 6 billion kilometers. NASA agreed, and an iconic photo was taken, showing Earth as a barely visible speck.
In the photograph, Earth’s apparent size is less than a pixel. It appears as a tiny dot against the vastness of space among bands of sunlight reflected by the camera. The photo was aptly named “Pale Blue Dot”.
The iconic photo prompted Carl Sagan to write the book “Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. On this Human Space Flight Day, it si fitting and poignant to share a quote from that book. We might be able to conquer space one day, but right now, the Earth is the only home we have.
A pale dot by Carl Sagan
“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.
A lonely speck
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. 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. 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.
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 only home we know
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 was probably the most famous scientist of the 1980’s. He is also known as “the astronomer of the people”. He was an astronomer, astrophysicist, author and researcher – and an excellent educator. He made important contribution in popularising astronomy to the public. He gained worldwide fame for his famous television series “Cosmos : A personal Voyage” and he wrote the novel “Contact” which later was made into a movie starring Jodie Foster.
Seen from about 6 billion kilometers, Earth ppears as a tiny dot (the blueish-white speck approximately halfway down the brown band to the right) within the darkness of deep space.
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