In 1990, as NASA’s Voyager 1 was leaving our solar system, the late astronomer Carl Sagan suggested that the engineers have the probe turn around and take a picture of Earth.
Here is the photo of Earth that Voyager took on February 14, 1990:
This was the best and most illuminating selfie ever taken. Not because it shows the Earth in all its close-up glory, but because of its wise and humble perspective.
Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot speech, inspired by that photo, comes from his 1994 book, Pale Blue Dot.
The speech is under four minutes long, read aloud. A YouTube video of that is profound.
Here are the words:
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.
–Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994
So many of us are living our lives as if we’ve missed the cosmic memo. The memo tells us that the atoms in our bodies come from the stars, that Earth is all we have and all we know, that our time here is finite, and that to be in awe is not to be on the fringe of life, but it is to capture the meaning of life.
I got the memo at a young age, which is why I chose to minor in physics. Today for some reason, I needed a reminder. Maybe you did, too.
More courtesy of NASA and the Jet Propulsion Lab.