Blue Marbles and Pale Blue Dots

Picture taken from DSCVR

Andrew Revkin has a great post up over at Dot Earth where Neil DeGrasse Tyson shares his thoughts on new images of Earth, “The Blue Marble.” It’s a beautiful paean to our planet, our history of conflicts, discoveries, and our will to cooperate to protect ourselves and the planet. Tyson concludes the short piece this way:

Occasions such as this offer renewed confidence that we may ultimately become responsible shepherds of our own fate, and the fate of that fragile home we call Earth.

We can hope. It is our one home. But it reminded me of another classic reflection on seeing Earth from space.

Carl Sagan wrote Pale Blue Dot as an extended reflection on seeing the Earth through the eyes of the Voyager space craft. From a distance of 3.7 billion miles, the famous picture shows Earth about 1/10 of pixel, a tiny speck in the vastness of space. Sagan wrote the following:

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 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. 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.

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.

How true. We are the makers of our lives, the crafters of our destinies so long as the universe allows us. On this world we can create meaning and happiness or squander it in pettiness, negligence, and cruelty.


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