30 Years of the Pale Blue Dot
30 years ago this image sparked one of the most memorable speeches by Astronomer 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.
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."
-- Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994
Voyager 1 is a space probe launched in 1977 to explore the depths of our solar system and beyond. When Voyager 1 flew past Neptune, mission control turned the probe around so that it can take one last look at home.
This image became known as the "Pale Blue Dot", and shows the earth as just a speck of dust floating in a ray of sunlight. For the first time, humans saw Earth's vulnerability, and that our home is nothing more but a minuscule grain, floating in the cosmic ocean.
This photograph gave birth to an iconic speech, and awakened a new perspective; in comparison to the vastness of space, our place in the universe is very insignificant. As grim as that may sound, the image also showed us that we must take care of the planet, because it is the only place, in an infinite amount of space, that we have to call home.
Listening to the late Carl Sagan deliver the Pale Blue Dot speech will make you feel its impact. See for yourself.