Life on the pale blue dot

In 1990, the Voyager 1 spacecraft took a picture of Earth from a record distance of six billion kilometers away, just as it was leaving the solar system.  In this sobering picture, Earth is a near-microscopic pale blue dot.   Pale_Blue_DotDo you see it?

The great astronomer and cosmologist Carl Sagan was deeply moved by this image,  and titled his 1994 book Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space.  It is in this book that we find the following passage:

“From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again 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. . . .”

Like Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan was as gifted a writer as he was a scientist.  The phrase “a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam”, in particular, is both beautiful and haunting.  The one thing I find deeply moving in Sagan’s writings is the consistent sense of wonder and awe at the universe that he so effectively conveys; this is especially important for teachers, who are supposed to be in the wonder and awe delivery business.  If you have never read any of Sagan’s books, I urge you to do so.

By the way, if you didn’t notice the pale blue dot, here it is.  Or, more accurately, here *we* are, all six billion of us:
pale blue dot

The image reminds me of the work of another great thinker, Bill Watterston.  His iconic creation Calvin certainly seems to have grasped the full import of Voyager’s photograph:Untitled

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