May 23, 2003

By Michael Strickland

Pale Blue Dot

Yesterday, NASA released this compelling photo of our own planet, taken two weeks ago by the Mars Global Surveyor probe currently circling the Red Planet. The space agency billed the photo as "the first portrait of Earth taken from Mars." It certainly is awe-inspiring to see just how tiny we are in the grand scheme. But for such perspective, there has been no greater image than Voyager's last long look back at our planet, four billion miles out, before it turned its back on us and left the solar system in 1990. This famous image (see below), showing Earth as a mere speck caught in a beam of sunlight, illustrates just how fragile and alone we really are. The image inspired astronomer-philosopher Carl Sagan to write his book "Pale Blue Dot," and to give the speech excerpted below at Cornell University in 1994. His powerful words brilliantly encapsulate the humbling power of this image.

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.
 
Earth from four billion miles away (between crosshairs)
Taken by the Voyager space probe in 1990

 

©2003 Michael Strickland ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

What is "The Daily Strick"?

I have long called myself a writer, but too often I don't do what a writer must do daily: write. So you, dear reader, are the beneficiary of my resolution to make a positive change in at least one area of my life. Every single day of this new year, I will write something, anything, and post it here. It is my intention to use this daily exercise to jump-start my too-long-dormant creative energies, and perhaps generate some worthwhile material this year. Hopefully you will find at least an occasional amusement or insight in my daily musings.

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Previously...

5/22: Underwater
5/21: Writing Again
5/20: Go Spend Money
5/18: Couch
5/17: Armed Forces Day
5/16: Reload
5/15: Temporary Defeat
5/12: What, Me Write?
5/11: Rockin' Out
5/10: Van Halen at the Tokyo Dome
5/9: Your Tax Dollars at Work
5/8: Yes, I Am a Nerd
5/7: Still Writing
5/6: A Different World?
5/5: Sponge
5/4: MacGyver
5/3: Mike's Sky Ranch
5/2: Baja Bound
5/1: Ice Moon
Previous months in The Archive

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