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Pale Blue Dot

 

Earth and Moon from Mars orbit

Earth and Moon from Mars orbit (not the Pale Blue Dot image)

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us.

This image of Earth taken from Mars’ orbit represents my theme today.

While doing some house-keeping on my YouTube Favourites recently I re-discovered again an except from Carl Sagan’s work Pale Blue Dot.

Rediscovered again? Are we going all Sam Beckett here? (No. Not Quantum Leap Sam B. – the playwright Sam B.)

…begin again all over more or less in the same place…

Now read on…

The original Pale Blue Dot photograph of planet Earth was taken by Voyager 1, 28 years ago today, from a distance of nearly seven billion kilometres (4 billion miles) as part of the Solar System family portrait.

Pale Blue Dot

Pale Blue Dot

The image showed the Earth suspended in the illusion of a ray of sunlight caused by the spacecraft’s lens optics, against the vastness of space. This image had a much more profound effect on me than the Apollo 8 Earth Rise image – partly because, I suspect, I never knew a time when Man hadn’t visited the Moon, and Earth Rise was always there as part of my socio-cultural heritage (much as kids today can’t envisage a smartphone-free world, I guess), and it wasn’t really that far away anyway.

The personal value of this image of “a mote of dust suspended on a sunbeam” is not only what it represents to us as a species, but its purpose as a semantic denotation, or what what David Jonassen would call “an object to think with.” And inevitably, that leads to Carl Sagan and his exposition on what the Pale Blue Dot represents. Carl Sagan on Cosmos People my age who grew up under a sky increasingly filled with communications satellites were the first generation to be exposed to the mass media and all that came in its wake; so we saw the (soccer) World Cup live from Argentina, and we also saw hijacked planes and embassies stormed, before our eyes.

And we also saw what a diverse world we were a part of (and believe me this was important if you lived on a mostly green island on the western edge of Europe, just a few degrees south of the Arctic circle), through documentary series like Cosmos and David Attenborough’s Life on Earth. There was an immediacy and an almost visceral quality to the narratives presented; a Shock of the New, imparted by these amazing colour images beamed into our living rooms (yes kids, before that TV used to be in both colours – black AND white). Better than fiction.

Now listen on

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.

Carl Sagan. Excerpted from Speech at Cornell University, October 13, 1994

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References:

Beckett, S. (2000) How it is. Avalon Travel Publishing.

Sagan, C. (1994). Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. Random House, New York.

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Image source:

Earth and Moon. Photograph courtesy NASA/JPL/Main Space Science Systems. Mars Global Surveyor. May 8, 2003. [Internet] Available from: http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/
earth_from_mars_030522.html [Accessed 2 July 2017]

Pale Blue Dot. Photograph courtesy NASA/JPL. Voyager 1. February 14, 2001. [Internet] Available from: http://visibleearth.nasa.gov/view_rec.php?id=601 [Accessed 2 July 2017]

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