Another space picture. The arrow points to a small dot, which is our planet, as snapped by Voyager 1 in 1991, at a distance of over 4 billion miles from home. Carl Sagan had this to say on the pale blue dot:
It has been my great good fortune to be involved in an extraordinary enterprise over the last thirty five years in which the human species sent robot exploratory vehicles to rummage through the planetary part of the solar system to survey our local swimming hole in space. One of these spacecraft, a two spacecraft mission, was called voyager and in 1989 after its brilliantly successful explorations of the Jupiter, Saturn Uranus and Neptune system, it became possible to do something I had wanted to do from the very beginning of that mission and that is to turn the cameras around and look back from beyond the outer most planet at our world. We succeeded in doing this and the image that resulted was of a single pale blue dot momentarily in a sunbeam. I look at that dot and I think that's here, that's home, that's us.
On that dot everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human-being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joy and suffering thousands of confident and mutually exclusive 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, every hopeful child, every inventor and explorer, every revered 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 the dot on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of those who derived their self esteem from dividing the dot into two hundred still littler patches.
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 a great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness their is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves, it is up to us. It's been said that astronomy is a humbling and even character building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. For me it underscores our responsibility, our profound responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot the only home we have ever known.
How can you argue everything isn't pointless, looking at the world from such a perspective? Some more from Carl Sagan:
We have found from modern astronomy that we live on a tiny hunk of rock and metal, third from the sun, that circles a humdrum star in the obscure outskirts of an ordinary galaxy which contains some 400 billion other stars, which is one of about a 100 billion other galaxies that make up the universe and according to some current views, a universe that is one among an immense number, perhaps an infinite number of other universes. In this perspective the idea that our planet is at the center of the universe much less that human purpose is central to the existence of the universe is pathetic. Does life thereby lose all meaning, I think not. I think we make our lives meaningful by the courage of our questions, by the depth of our answers, by how widespread our understanding is of the essential tools for managing our future, for how skeptical we are of those in authority and of our obligation to care for one another.
And so, Sagan understood that though we are an insignificant species, on an insignificant planet in an insignificant corner of a vast universe, science and human effort can do things which our ancestors could never even have imagined. Sagan died in 1996, at the age of 62. Voyager 1 is currently over 9 billion miles from Earth, and travelling at a speed of about 1 million miles a day, it will eventually leave the solar-system - the most distant man-made object in existence.Go Top