A “Pale Blue Dot” In The Immensity Of The Cosmos
The ever productive exercise of measuring our size against the immensity of the cosmos, inaugurated by Carl Sagan, catches a second wind with this new animation.
Few people in the history of mankind have been as successful as Carl Sagan in communicating a sense of wonder at existence. The immensity of the cosmos and the improbability of human evolution render our lives marvelous. After all, our planet is but a particle of blue dust floating around a sun that is one of a thousand million stars in our galaxy, which in turn is barely a twinkle in the fathomless Universe.
Adam Winnik has animated Carl Sagan’s famous “Pale Blue Dot” monologue to celebrate the 35th anniversary of Voyager 1, a space probe which travels the outer regions of our solar system carrying on board a “golden record” with pictures and sounds of Earth compiled by Sagan himself. Wonder arises from the realization that we live in a “pale blue dot”, seemingly enormous to us but tiny and insignificant to the Universe. This sense of awe only became apparent with space exploration, when we were first able to see images of Earth from space —Earth as seen from outside our collective body. Here is an excerpt from Carl Sagan’s memorable text:
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.
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.
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