Monday, 25 December 2006

A pale blue dot

It was Carl Sagan's idea to turn Voyager's camera back toward the planet that launched the spacecraft in order to reveal to that planet's inhabitants their "true circumstance and condition". After much resistance, Dr. Sagan prevailed, and on February 14, 1990, from a distance of 6.4 billion kilometers , Voyager 1 captured this image of our Earth. Here the entire world fills only 0.12 pixel and appears as a tiny crescent of light.


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 or your joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and distroyer 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 here -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 a 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 posturing, 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 that this distant image or our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsability 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, Pale Blue Dot, Random House, 1994

No comments:

Contents of the day

Article of the Day

This Day in History

Today's Birthday

In the News

Quote of the Day

Science video