Pale Blue Dot Turns 25

Saturday was the 25th anniversary of the famous Pale Blue Dot photo. The photo, which was done at the request of Carl Sagan, was taken by Voyager 1 when it was 3.7 billion miles away from the Earth. It shows our planet as a single, barely large enough to see pixel. And this was while Voyager 1 was relatively close to us. Now the spacecraft, which is still operational, is so far away that the Earth would be invisible. I love this photo because it reminds us how small we really are. How the enormity of the Earth disappears while from a vantage point that is still in our own back yard. We all need a reminder that no matter how important we feel, the universe is oblivious to our presence.

Credit: NASA
Credit: NASA

Carl Sagan’s take on this photo is my favorite quote of all time. Seriously I can read this over and over and I still love every word as much as the first time I heard it. The words are more poignant now than ever.

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again 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.

Pale Blue Dot Turns 25 was last updated February 16th, 2015 by Michael Truskowski