Tuesday, November 29, 2005

A Mote of Dust, Suspended in a Sunbeam


If you choose to read this entry, I should warn you - there is a chance you will feel a little insignificant at the end. But there is also a good chance you will feel enlightened and uplifted. You may have seen it all before, so stop me if you're bored.

Above is a rather ordinary looking photo that is, by today's standards, not very good. You'll notice a glare across it, and a pale blue dot in the center of the glare. (highlighted by the line) That little dot is the only planet in the universe where we know, beyond any doubt, there is life.

It is the Earth, from 4 billion miles away, taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft in 1991. Astronomer Carl Sagan's idea was to turn Voyager's camera around for one last look at Mother Earth before we winked out of view. The Voyager is now reaching the boundaries of interstellar space, somewhere we've never been before... but that picture might be the most meaningful ever taken of anything in the universe. He wrote about it, and here is the exerpt (from his book "Pale Blue Dot"):

"We succeeded in taking that picture, 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.

9 comments:

Spinning Girl said...

You quoting Carl Sagan, who is my personal hero in life, jazzes me from head to toe.

OldHorsetailSnake said...

Powerful stuff. Too bad it is lost on so many people.

Kerouaced said...

Oh now you and Carl are just being silly. Everyone knows that we are the center of everything...

Weary Hag said...

K ... I just got off a little on your use of the word "mote."

You should really warn a gal before bringing out the heavy vocab guns.

Lee Ann said...

Simply amazing!

Rob Seifert said...

Perspective is all important. Sagan knew this implicitly. Thanks for sharing this with us!

RCS

Dr. Mike said...

Uhh.. Okay, I see the dust, but where's the Earth?

;)

Mishka said...

Awesome Dave, truly awesome.

Too bad we can't get everyone to read it, and appreciate how simple and short our lives are...

Kenny Chaffin said...

Thanks for this. One of the most inspirational things ever written by the wonderful Carl Sagan!