Tuesday, March 13, 2012

pale blue dot

my stepfather passed this along to me the other day, and I found it beautiful.
and wise.
thus I'm sending it along, because I want more of us to operate from a belief system like mr. sagan's.
and, of course, because whatever other forms of life exist out there--wherever they may be--I like to think they understand the joy of riding a bicycle.

In 1977, the Voyagers 1 and 2 spacecrafts were launched, their primary mission to explore Jupiter and Saturn. They completed that part of their mission successfully in 1979 and 1980. They were sent on to explore further reaches in our solar system and reached Neptune 10 years later in 1990. At that time, after pictures were taken of Neptune were taken, Nasa ordered that Voyager's cameras be turned off to conserve energy. Carl Sagan begged for one more picture. He asked that the cameras be turned around, and take a picture backwards, towards Earth. After a tricky maneuver to turn the spacecraft around, the picture was taken. Amazingly, Earth was captured as a pale blue dot lurking in a sun beam. To understand how small Earth was in the picture, consider the following. It is routine now for digital cameras' sensors to be 18 megapixels - that's 18 million pixels in a picture. The diameter of the the Earth in the picture Voyager took, spanned just over one tenth of one pixel.
Sagan was inspired to write the following about this picture. His words continue to resonate today -

"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."

—carl sagan, pale blue dot: a vision of the human future in space

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