Sunday, June 10, 2007

Pale Blue Dot

By: Jon

We're often told that without religion, there can't be any real meaning, any real purpose, any real beauty.

This photograph is my response:

By any technical standard, it's a lousy photograph. It's nothing but a couple of faint blue pixels on a grainy black background. There are light streaks caused by reflected sunlight bouncing around the camera lens. But the point of focus in this photo is the little blue dot, the one sitting inside one of those streaks.

That blue dot is planet Earth.

This photograph was taken by the Voyager 1 space probe in 1990. It was about 4 billion miles away from our planet.

It had hurtled through space at over 600 miles per minute for 13 years before it snapped this photo... and its still going - now, exiting our solar system and moving into interstellar space.

Carl Sagan was impressed with this photograph wrote "Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space."
He said:

"... 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."
This image is perspective. It is focus. It is humility. I wish that we could keep this perspective, just to know that all of our wars and our fighting and our pride, it's all for nothing - a small corner of a tiny speck of dust that could just as easily be brushed away by the universe and forgotten.

And yet...

That the photo exists at all proves something.

It proves that we could reach beyond our world, stab straight into the heavens, and look back at our home from a place that until that moment was reserved only for the Gods.

We can be so great and accomplish so much - and yet we are so small, so fragile. Maybe one day, we'll get over ourselves and realize that this is all we have, all we are, just "a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam."

And with that understanding, we become more.

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