Reflection From The Pale Blue Dot

In 1990, the Voyager 1 space probe looked back at Earth from the outer solar system and snapped a picture that captured the attention of the world. How did our humble home look? A dot. Literally, the Earth was nothing more than a pale blue dot in the image taken by the probe.

In 1994, Carl Sagan wrote the book Pale Blue Dot. In it, Sagan wrote what he believes humanity can and will achieve (a future in the stars). One of the most moving and profound quotes you’ll ever hear or read also comes from the book. Reflecting on the 1990 photo, Sagan comments on the insignificance, vulnerability and preciousness of planet Earth in his classic eloquent way:

*italics added by me…

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 1934-1996

Space Update – Major News & Big Developments

This year continues to be a good one for cosmologists, astronomers and geeks like me.

Mars DID Have Water:

Scientists just confirmed what they had long thought: Mars once had water. Though they didn’t actually find liquid water, they found large amounts of evidence for it. NASA’s Mars rover, Opportunity (still going strong after 90 months), found mineral veins of gypsum, a hydrated calcium sulfate found in “wet” environments on Earth.

Possible “Twin” Earth Found:

NASA has discovered an Earth-like planet that lies within its star’s habitable zone, an area where liquid water could exist. Earth is lucky to be within the sun’s habitable zone so it’s big news to find out that there’s at least one other planet, designated “Kepler-22b,” that is in a similar situation.

Kepler-22b

Voyager 1 Near Solar System’s Edge

NASA’s famous Voyager 1 spacecraft (launched in 1977) is about to become the first man-made object to leave the Solar System and enter interstellar space, the space between stars. Although it may take Voyager several months to a few years to leave, it is on a fast track…traveling about 11 miles a second. It is approximately 11 billion miles away from the sun.

Voyager 1

Largest Black Holes Ever Discovered

Forget those measly black holes the size of several suns, astronomers have discovered black holes that are several times bigger than the solar system. “Big” and “large” don’t even come close to describing the scope of these cosmological monsters. Yeah, we can thank black holes for being vital in galactic formation…but damn….

a really...REALLY big, supermassive black hole

These discoveries are exciting. They remind us how amazing the known universe is and how small, insignificant AND special we are. Keep the knowledge coming…