On September 5th, 1977, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched a space probe called Voyager-1 from Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) at Cape Canaveral. Its mission and that of its sister, Voyager-2, which launched on August 20th, 1977, according to NASA, was (in a nutshell) to explore Jupiter and Saturn. After completing their primary mission, the Voyagers were given an extended mission, the Voyager Interstellar Mission (VIM). According to NASA, the VIM’s purpose was “to explore the solar system beyond the neighborhood of the outer planets to the outer limits of the Sun’s sphere of influence, and possibly beyond.”
On August 25th, 2012, Voyager-1 crossed the heliopause and entered interstellar space, making it the first spacecraft to do so. It’s currently the fastest and furthest manmade object, traveling at around 39,600 mph, and by the time you read this, it’s likely surpassed 15,000,000,000 miles from Earth.
12 years, 5 months, and 10 days into its mission, and just before powering off several systems to conserve energy for its VIM, Voyager-1 took one last photo in a series called “The Family Portrait,” a.k.a. “Portrait of the Planets.” This final photo was taken on February 14th, 1990, at the behest of Dr. Carl Sagan, who was a famed astronomer amongst other things, and part of the Voyager imaging team. Dr. Sagan would call the photo the “Pale Blue Dot,” which was also the title of his book.
“Pale Blue Dot”
In the “Pale Blue Dot” photo, Earth appears the size of one pixel, given the photo was taken at a record 3.7 billion miles from Earth. I compare it to a speck of dust floating in a sunbeam that’s coming through a window blind. In fact, if Dr. Sagan didn’t point out where Earth is in the photo, you wouldn’t know what the tiny speck is. And remember, that was a photo taken from inside our solar system. In other words, our planet is minuscule, and that’s just compared to our own solar system.
In fact, Earth can fit inside our sun a whopping 1 million, 300 thousand times (1,300,000), while our sun can fit inside UY Scuti, the largest known star in the universe, a jaw-dropping 5 billion (5,000,000,000) times.
After you read (or listen to https://youtu.be/wupToqz1e2g) what Dr. Sagan said about the Pale Blue Dot, I’ll give you my take on it in the next section.
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.
— Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994
Here’s my take on what Dr. Sagan said regarding the Pale Blue Dot photo, as it relates to where we find ourselves as a society.
I compare the first sentence, where he says, “consider again that dot,” to a speck of dust floating in a sunbeam that’s coming through a window blind. Dr. Sagan then describes different types of historically “important people,” before discussing in the second paragraph all the lives those individuals wasted over things we now look at as asinine, including all the “rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors,” who gained glory, all at the expense of the common people.
He then asks us to “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.” And today, nearly a quarter of the way through the 21st century, not much has changed, except we now have more ways to kill one another, which includes the ability to destroy the entire planet, something no other civilization in the history of the world could’ve fathomed. While today, we look at how wars were once fought as being downright crazy, but today, the United States alone can kill more people than have been killed in every war (150 million to 1 billion est.) in history in mere minutes. Mind you, the U.S. in theory, can kill the entire population of Earth many times over, making the wars of the past seem a little less crazy.
Dr. Sagan then reminds us that our posturing and “imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.” In other words, we’re very small; not only our planet but all of us, including the leaders of every nation on Earth. Sadly, with all our knowledge and technology, we still allow ourselves to be played by politicians and the rulers of nations.
Today, nearly every American has access to humanities amassed knowledge in the palm of their hands, by simply using our smartphones. But we rarely use them to better ourselves, to arm ourselves with knowledge and information. Daily, we allow ourselves to be lied to by our governments and politicians. Oddly, if those doing the lying tell us they align with our beliefs, we’re all too quick to give them a pass, or at a minimum, we don’t regularly contest them on their falsehoods. We look the other way when those on our chosen side attack those in other groups, which only creates more outrage and division, all the while those who divide us, pretend they’re doing us a service. They tell us they’re “standing up” or “fighting” for us, and they’re doing everything on the up & up, but the reality of their actions run contrary to their words.
Unfortunately, the everyday people on this Pale Blue Dot, continue to allow the rulers of nations and evil ideologues to keep us at each other’s throats. In other words, we do the dirty work for them, and as we attack and kill one another, the elites continue to benefit by remaining in power, and by enriching themselves, and their cronies.
In the vastness of our Universe, as Dr. Sagan rightly says, “our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark” and “in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.” This tells me we need to realize that if we destroy ourselves, it’s not a select few who are to blame, but all of us, especially those who don’t engage in politics, or those who vote based on outrage or tribalism. Dr. Sagan then reminds us that there isn’t anywhere else for us to go, the only place we have is here…Earth.
Dr. Sagan closed by saying that we need to deal with one another better than we do, if not, then the path we’re on will lead to our collective demise. Folks, we need to realize that the politicians, the societal elites, the talking heads on the news, or the self-important types aren’t going to magically save us. The only way we’re going to get our nation and our planet headed in the right direction is to wake up and become involved. If not, then that’s that! Personally, I’m going to continue to do all I can, I hope you will as well.
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