Just a Pale Blue Dot

A recent find by Andre Grillon.

The Pale Blue Dot is a photograph of planet Earth taken in 1990 by Voyager 1 from a record distance, showing it against the vastness of space. By request of Carl Sagan, NASA commanded the Voyager 1 spacecraft, having completed its primary mission and now leaving the Solar System, to turn its camera around and to take a photograph of Earth across a great expanse of space.

In a commencement address delivered May 11, 1996, Sagan related his thoughts on a deeper meaning of the photograph:

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.

Nikolai De Leo is a Transaction Advisory Services Professional living in Miami, FL. When not working, he enjoys reading (his three favorite books are As a Man Thinketh, Atlas Shrugged, and the Picture of Dorian Grey), running (he has completed two half marathons and a triathlon in his favorite Vibram five fingers), and watching college football (he attended the University of Florida for both his undergraduate and graduate degrees).
  1. Christopher Howard Reply

    We have settled on this Island called Earth, but we are not marooned. This is not the beginning. We traveled all across the universe before finally stopping here to grow.

    I learned in my astronomy class that all of the elements in the universe first formed in the cores of developing stars. Through the fusion process, small hydrogen and helium atoms combine to form heavier elements like carbon, oxygen, and iron, and all of the elements that ever existed. When stars become supernovas and explode, these elements are launched into space where they collect in huge clouds of dust and material. These great clouds contain the seeds of life. Stars and planets form in these giant clouds of dust, as did the Sun and the Earth billions of years ago. It is miraculous to think every atom that makes up our bodies and the Earth was once in the core of a star thousands of light years away.

    We are all made of Stars, and we’ve been in the making for billions of years.

    • Nikolai De Leo Reply

      I think that is a great point. If more people grasped this concept we could rid the world of a lot of violence and hatred. We all came from one source and we are an outgrowth of that unknown source. In that respect we are all connected in some way, even though we tend to see the world as a lot of different "nations".

  2. Errday Reply
  3. DB Cooper Reply

    Humbling indeed. For years now I have used a mental exercise in times of deep depression, anxiety, or even the occasional inflated sense of importance. I sit in my chair, close my eyes, and imagine myself floating directly above my body. As I look down at my body resting so peacefully I imagine a white line anchoring my conscience to my body, like an endless fishing line that will keep reeling longer and longer as I move away.

    I then float through the roof of my house and gaze down on the immensity of my apartment complex. I slowly float upward into the sky as my scope of vision increases, ever aware of the white line connecting me back to my body. With time the entire city that I live in becomes visible, a sweeping sprawl of humanity checker boarded with remnants of nature.

  4. DB Cooper Reply

    I keep rising and now ocean becomes visible at both edges of my vision as manmade objects lose focus and my white line connects me still to my distant body. I start rising faster. The whole of Florida is visible now, other states and vivid ocean beginning to dominate my minds presence. I rise above the clouds as the entire Unites States becomes visible. Near the edges of my vision the deep blue gives way to a deeper black as the entire Earth begins to take form.

    Here I take pause. The entire earth is visible as a glowing circular jewel, and I am awed by its majesty. My white line is anchored to such a small, seemingly insignificant part of the world. Then I start to rise again and at the corners of my mind Mars and Venus take shape. The journey continues until I pause again, staring down at a flat representation of our solar system. Dominated by a star, one hundred million times larger than that glowing blue gem in the distance I'm tethered too.

  5. DB Cooper Reply

    Here I pick up speed, the solar system falling farther and farther below me until the Sun is all that I can still distinguish, all around me small white dots multiply until my vision is nothing but a small yellow ball with a long thin white line coming out of it set against a blanket of twinkling stars. The sun itself eventually turns to a small white star itself as the fringes of my vision begin to take on a deep black.

    This deep black grows to dominate the entire left and right hemispheres of my mind’s eye as the center turns into a column of twinkling lights. I realize that I am looking down on a flattened vision of the arm of the Milky Way that we exist within. My white line has all but lost meaning, drifting down below me into the distance

  6. DB Cooper Reply

    I pull back farther and look down at the entire sprawling spiral of the Milky Way Galaxy and am awed by the billions of stars that make up my home. Still I pull back farther as the Andromeda Galaxy and the Magellanic Clouds begin to take form in my vision. The Milky Way shrinks as my vision is filled with the dozens of galaxies that make up my super cluster, other super clusters of galaxies visible as just small points of light in the distance. Numbers lose meaning. Billions of trillions of stars.

    Then I fall. From my super cluster to my galaxy, to my arm, to my star, to my planet, to my state, to my city, to my apartment complex, to my body and I am humbled. I am reminded that the entirety of existence is so great, so much more than what I call 'home', that my problems are washed away as the trivial meaningless moments they are.

    Sorry for high jacking your blog post but it reminded me so strongly of this experience.

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