Pale Blue Dot

Pale Blue Dot is perhaps the greatest speech in mankind’s history. It was delivered by Carl Sagan, the most effective science communicator of the 20th century and one of the most influential scientists of all time. A lead scientific advocate for the abolition of the use of fossil fuels that cause global warming, or to use the new-found name, Terrafever. His PhD thesis included the first calculations of the runaway greenhouse effect on Venus. Yeah, that’s how deep he was. He was also the inspiration to numerous scientists currently: Bill Nye, the black science guy himself, Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Carl Sagan was a member of Voyager’s imaging team, and it was his idea that Voy . . . A bit of background: The Voyager mission is the longest odyssey ever undertaken by humankind. It comprises of two space probes, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, both launched in 1977, two weeks apart. Travelling at an insane speed of 64,000 km/h, Voyager 1 is the furthest travelling thingy ever made by man and is 22 billion kilometres away while Voyager 2 is 18 billion kilometres away. They are the only things ever touched by human hands to enter an uncharted realm – the interstellar space.

Half a decade before the twin launch, an astronaut during the Apollo mission had taken the first-ever picture of the whole Earth. This had stirred up a new consciousness. For the first time ever we inhabitants of Earth could step back and see the planet for what it really was: a single interconnected system, a world without borders.

Carl Sagan realized the next step in this. As Voyager 1 passed Neptune on its trajectory outside the solar system, he convinced his team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) to turn the probe’s camera back to Earth for one last family portrait of our solar system, for one last look homeward at what he called the Pale Blue Dot:

Seen from about 6 billion kilometres, Earth appears as a tiny dot (the blueish-white speck approximately halfway down the brown band to the right) within the darkness of deep space.


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 spilt 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 posturing, 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 harbour 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 kindlier with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

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