I have officially crossed over. Astronomy is no longer an interest of mine, rather it has become a hobby. (For me the line is drawn once I start spending money on something…)
Being outside under the starts has always fascinated me. The beauty of the night sky draws you in and as you keep your eyes open and fixed, more is revealed. In efforts to grow our understanding, physicists and astronomers have been researching and exploring our place in the universe for centuries. And most will tell you, astronomy is a humbling science.
One such exploration is the Voyager 1 Space probe launched in 1977. Moving through the solar system at approx. 325 million miles per year, Voyager 1 has become the farthest probe ever sent into space. (And it is still communicating data as it moves beyond our solar system!)
Before Voyager 1 inactivated its image capturing instruments, many astronomers (like Carl Sagan) persuaded NASA to reorient the probe so it looked back on the solar system as it continued its flight away from the sun. This allowed the probe to capture and return a series of images of our solar system that became known as “The Family Portrait.”
In this maneuver Voyager 1 was able to take 3 pictures of the Earth over 3.7 Billion miles away.
This photograph became known as “The Pale Blue Dot.” and shows the tiny, pixel-sized view of the Earth in a ray of sun reflected in the camera’s lens.
Carl Sagan wrote a popular reflection of what this image means to him, and what it may also be important to you. I invite you to listen to Carl’s thoughts here.
You can also read the excerpt from his book The Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space below.
“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
written by: robert brack; challenge course manager