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Earth Pixel

July 22, 2013

(Disclaimer: This is a longer post, but if you have the time to spare I hope you’ll find it meaningful and thought-provoking. Think of it as a healthy mind stretch to start your week!)

OK SO ANYWAY – I wanted to let you guys know that the NASA spacecraft Cassini made news this week by taking some awesome pictures… but not just your run-of-the-mill Saturn glamor shots. These were particularly special because our pimped out celestial whip and the planet we call home is visible way off in the distance. Backstory – Cassini has been doing cool science out in the neighborhood of Saturn since it entered orbit there in 2004. It came equipped with a handy little lander intended to visit the moon Titan, which it successfully did in 2005. This was the first time we had ever accomplished a probe launch/landing in the outer part of the solar system – so booya on that. It’s cool too because it’s not a very new spacecraft. Cassini took ~20 years to develop and it was originally launched from Earth all the way back in 1997.

You know, back when this was the #1 hit.

So anyway, this thing is old enough to get its learner’s permit now… but it’s still doing some sweet science. This week, however, it simply turned itself toward the beautiful planet and snapped a series of gorgeous photos (as photos of Saturn almost automatically are) – but this photoshoot was purposely planned so that we could capture the Earth far off in the distance behind the gas giant. The results are stunning, gorgeous, humbling – whatever your favorite positive adjectives are, they apply here.

I wanted to write about the images for this entry – but then I saw a post by “I fucking love science” on Facebook (who, by the way, is worth following). It had an amazing excerpt from Carl Sagan’s book called Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space (released in that magical year, 1997 lol). The words are so true to me, so precisely true, that I simply had to share them here. So view the photo and really read these words. Think about them. Think about how amazing this universe is.

We are that white pixel. Earth, our home, viewed from more than 700 million miles away
by a lump of metal we hurled into the vastness over 15 years ago. YOU are in this photo.

“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. 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. 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. 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.”

—Carl Sagan

HOLY CRAP.

My mind hurts in the best way.

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From → SPACE

One Comment
  1. William permalink

    That truely is an amazing picture. One pixel. In other contexts it’s the equivalent to an annoying error. Any time we move out of our frame of reference it’s a humbling experience and this is no exception. It begs the question, where did this self righteous, human centric belief come from? An evolutionary impulse that allowed our ancestors survive, or something manufactured? Either way it is a tool for religion, consumerism, and a host of other things that inhibit our ability to advance our understanding of the universe and uncover the mysteries contained within the dot and beyond.

    It is also inspiring to think that inspire of these challenges we have achieved so much. The condensed nature of the image underscores the importance of cooperation. And themere fact we’ve been able to hurl something that far into space to not only look back upon ourselves, but also contemplate interpretations is amazing.

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