Monday, October 16, 2006

Our "pale blue dot"

Today's Astronomy Picture of the Day is fantastic for two reasons. First, the photo itself. The orbitting Cassini photographed Saturn eclipsing the sun, emphasizing her spectacular rings. Amazing photo.

As incredible as that is, more so to me is that insignificant "pale blue dot" in the upper left outer ring. See it? That's Earth, our residence. A glimpse of Earth from Saturn.

Here's what Carl Sagan said about that "pale blue dot":

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 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.
Then consider this Psalm of David:

When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers,
The moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained;
What is mna, that Thou dost take thought of him?
And the son of man, that Thou dost care for him?
Yet Thou hast made him a little lower than God,
And dost crown him with glory and majesty!


norah said...

You have a great site.. I'm going to pick up some Wendell Berry - seems as though that's what I'm looking for these days.. Something quiet and thoughtful! I appreciate the psalms and poems here, too.. !!

Dana said...

Not sure where you live...havent read all your archive....are you willing to divulge?
I'm in GA.
PS not to be confused w/dana miller in AL or a dana in FL who posted at Quiet Life for a while.

Carol in Oregon said...

I've shown this pic to several visitors to our house. It really is so remarkable. Thanks for posting it, Janie.