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Blasphemy Sunday, 6/28/2009; Pale Blue Dot

June 29, 2009

Last week we all had a hearty, devilish laugh courtesy of humanism’s nearest approximation to prophets.  In this week’s Blasphemy Sun(mon)day, I’ll be bringing it down a notch, and sharing something a bit more serious and meaningful to me.

It’s an image, one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen – less for its aesthetic merits, and more for what it symbolizes.


More after the jump.

From Wikipedia:

Voyager 1 was launched on September 5, 1977. [Carl] Sagan had pushed for Voyager to take a photo of the Earth when its vantage point reached the edge of the solar system.  On February 14, 1990, having completed its primary mission, NASA commanded the spacecraft to turn around to photograph the planets of the Solar System.  Between February 14, 1990 and June 6, 1990, one image Voyager returned was of Earth, showing up as a “pale blue dot” in the grainy photo.

Carl Sagan later used the title for one of his books.  From the introduction:

We succeeded in taking that picture [from deep space], and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every 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 in 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 the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. 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. It is up to us. It’s been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, 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 and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

I leave you with this:

“Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand.”

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