Newsletter: Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot

Today I am bringing a little Carl Sagan monologue [a great American astrophysicist who became world-famous for his writing and science popularization efforts] about a particular photograph called the Pale Blue Dot. This picture was taken on February, 14th in 1990 by the Voyager 1 probe*, 6,000 kilometers away from the Earth and after having passed Pluto’s orbit. It was Sagan himself who asked the mission to turn the cameras back to take a last picture of the Earth. There was little scientific value in the picture, but Sagan understood that it would be invaluable in our understanding of our place in the Universe. The Earth is the small dot circled in blue.

This video contains the entire monologue: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b58SfRphkKc

The fragment, taken from a speech given at Cornell University on October 13th, 1994, is the following:

We succeeded in taking that picture, and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every 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 in 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 the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. 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.

[…] To my mind, 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 and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

— Carl Sagan.

 

[* This probe is, by the way, the man-made object farthest to the Earth and the first to make it out of the Solar System: after almost 40 years on its mission, it is still going strong at 64,000 km/h.]

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