The Pale Blue Dot

Picture of Earth from more than 4 billion miles away

On February 14th, 1990, Voyager 1 took this picture of Earth from more than 4 billion miles away. The horizontal strokes visible on the image are light rays from the sun. In a lecture in 1996, the same year as he passed away, Carl Sagan shared his thoughts on this picture. Undoubtedly the most inspiring and insightful description to ever accompany an image of the Earth, and I couldn’t agree more:

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.

In memory of Carl Sagan. His moment of being continues to inspire.

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8 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. Lovely tribute! Puts things in perspective.

  2. Yeah. It does, doesn’t it? Amazingly well written.

  3. Incredible. I hope more people come to think of this….

  4. Are you blind or ignorant? Read the book “The Privileged Planet” and you will know the truth and the lies of so many scientists.

  5. Steve

    Linda, using personal insults in your arguments makes it next to meaningless, but I will attempt to reply to you respectfully. I would like to first say that science does not lie. A ‘scientist’ can not ‘lie’. It’s impossible. That person then becomes a propagandist. Pursue the truth even in the face of your deepest beliefs and you will be conducting science. I think, however, the authors of this book use science to offer proof of an ID theory. This pseudoscience lies outside the realm of the scientific process and represents mostly misinformation and unintelligible arguments. For example, the authors claim that solar eclipses will only be view-able for a short time period and that just so happens to line up with the period of intelligent life on earth to observe it. I truly fail to see how this represents proof of intelligent design, it simply shows gravitational theory and nuclear theory in action. Just because something happens, doesn’t mean there is a designer that pulled the strings. Actually, everything that we have encountered thus far in nature is quite opposite of that truth. The deeper we dig, the less we need god to explain what we fail to.

  6. It neither proves nor disproves anything. An almighty being could just as well have created the universe to include physics and things we can explain using science. Or it it emerged in some other way. Ultimately there’s no way for us to tell (yet?).

  7. Oh, but Linda: Steve’s absolutely right that rudeness (or superiority complexes) lends your argument no credit. Imagine in terms of a Coca-Cola commercial:

    “Are you blind or ignorant? Drink “Coca-Cola” and you will know the truth and the lies of so many Pepsi drinkers.

  8. Matthew

    the most depressing combination ever is to read this while listen to “dust in the wind”… the duo is more powerful the you would ever belive. it really put things in perspective

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