On the 19th of July, 2013, the spacecraft called Cassini took about 20 minutes out of its mission at Saturn to look far, far away – 898 million miles back in the direction it had come, held itself very still… and took some inspiring pictures of its home…

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From NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Cal Tech’s news release… comes this snippet:

“We can’t see individual continents or people in this portrait of Earth, but this pale blue dot is a succinct summary of who we were on July 19,” said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist, at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “Cassini’s picture reminds us how tiny our home planet is in the vastness of space, and also testifies to the ingenuity of the citizens of this tiny planet to send a robotic spacecraft so far away from home to study Saturn and take a look-back photo of Earth.”

Nicely put, Ms. Spilker…

Back in 1990, the Voyager 1 spacecraft also took Earth’s picture as it bid farewell to the solar system. A truly amazing image it is… one that prompted Carl Sagan to offer some thoughts on the implications of what thereafter became known as The Pale Blue Dot.

Here is that image, from 4 billion miles away – followed by Dr. Sagan’s words…

Pale Blue Dot by Voyager 1 1990 via nprImage source, a fine article on NPR.

“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 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. 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.

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: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

Inspiring times we live in. I still hope someday that we can heed the words above… just imagine what could be done… what wonders could be found,,, how rich our lives could be.

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Comments
  1. Really puts things in perspective Iggy. Haven’t seen this photo before. I wonder what the band of red (or is it purple) light is that earth is ‘sitting in’?

    • iggymak says:

      Sure does!

      As for that band of light, which is pretty wild, I agree, I seriously should have linked the article on NPR that that image is from, where JPL’s Candice Hansen-Koharcheck became the first person to ever see it. She said:

      “It was just a little dot, about two pixels big, three pixels big,” she says. “So not very large.”

      But this was the Earth — seen as no human had ever seen it before.

      What’s more, an accidental reflection off the spacecraft made it look as though the tiny speck was being lit up by a glowing beam of light. “You know, I still get chills down my back,” says Hansen-Koharcheck. “Because here was our planet, bathed in this ray of light, and it just looked incredibly special.”

      Truly awesome!

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