07 March 2010

pale blue dot


Photo Courtesy: NASA ©

The images of the Indian Ocean and North America were produced by researches at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center using images from the Terra satellite more than 700km above the Earth's surface. This is part of the Blue Marble series which is pieced together from thousands of images taken over many months by the satellite's remote-sending device Modis, of every square kilometer of the Earth's surface. These are the most true-colour images of the Earth released to date.

Looking at these images I can't help but recall Carl Sagan's words from his book 'Pale Blue Dot'. It is also the name of a photograph of the Earth taken by Voyager I in 1990 from a record distance . It features the Earth as a small blue dot in the black vastness of space suspended on a sunbeam. Below is an excerpt on the subject from a public talk he gave at Cornell University on October 13, 1994.


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.

I'm posting this here today to remind us why we do what we do.

2 comments:

Ramesh said...

Lovely post Akhila - great photos and the fine quote from Carl Sagan. There's nothing like the study of cosmology , as Sagan says, to inject humility into a human. It does give a different perspective on why we should care for our home , isn't it ? "Pale Blue dot" is achingly haunting and is a wonderful spur to stop destroying it. Even more than environmental damage, I think the greatest danger we are playing with is with nuclear weapons. cor

Akhila Vijayaraghavan said...

Totally agree Ramesh.