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Pale Blue Dot

17 March 2019

If you didn’t know who coined that phrase and the meaning behind it, his name is Carl Sagan. This photograph was from the Voyager 1 spacecraft on February 14, 1990. From 3.7 billion miles away, NASA turned the spacecraft around to take a photo of the solar systems inner planets and captured the Earth. It’s that tiny little speck in the bands of sunlight, the brown band on the right and about halfway down the image. That’s us. Sagan pointed out that on that dot, “every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives.”

Launched in 1977 it took 13 years to get to that point where our planet, our home appeared as the faintest spec of light that it is. At that distance, it is past the orbit of Neptune. That pales at the vastness of our galaxy, which is just one of the billions of other galaxies in the known universe.

Our universe is estimated to be 14.8 billion years old. The speed of light in a vacuum is 186,000 miles per second. That means in 1 year, a photon can travel about 6 trillion miles, and that is what we call a light-year. At that speed, it took light from the furthest parts of the universe 14.8 billion years to get here, to our eyes.

These are big numbers to comprehend, and the measurement of time over these distances is equally challenging to understand.

Let’s reign it in a bit. The Moon is only 239,000 miles from Earth and took just a couple of days to get there. When the astronauts took that famous blue marble photo of an Earth-rise, it brought home our true insignificance and showed our inflated sense of ego as a species. In the 1960s, just as before then and even today, we are divided, and we use imaginary lines on pieces of paper to separate ourselves. I remember once in high school, one of the girls in my class was observing a political map in our history class. She asked the teacher what was to her an honest question. She wondered aloud if the borders between countries and states were real, that if you drove to one of those spots, was there a giant line painted on the ground? Of course, most of the teenagers in the class knew better and laughed at her. Then the teacher told everyone to be quiet as he in his best composure said no, there are no real lines painted on the ground.

In our minds and on our maps, we draw lines separating ourselves based on ideologies, preconceptions, selfish desires and a host of other temporary things that lead to discrimination, hatred, strife, war, and killings. We’ve done this for as long as we’ve walked the Earth. As a species, we’ve come so far in our collective intelligence and wisdom to be able to walk on another celestial body and get a view of our home, our only home and see ourselves for what we are. We’ve come so far, but we hold ourselves back because of our delusions of self and ego.

It took the brutality of World War II and the Cold War to prompt us to develop the rockets that took us to the Moon. Why did it take the slaughter of millions of people through those times to propel ourselves to new heights? Why do we use our talents, our intelligence, and our might to devise new, innovative, and efficient ways of killing ourselves? I think it’s because of innate desires to be selfish, of self-importance, fear, and hatred of those that are different. It’s because of entitlement and getting what we believe others owe us. We’ll stop at nothing to get that which we desire to fulfill our lusts at the expense of the person next to us.

When we look at that pale blue dot again, we don’t see any borders or lines of demarcation. We don’t see those that are different from us. We don’t see the things which we desire, and we don’t see the have’s and the have not’s. We don’t even see the oceans or the continents. All we see is a tiny chunk of rock in the blackness of space with the light of a star reflecting off it as an instrument of our making takes our self-portrait.

We become so obsessed with ourselves, our own lives, and our desires that we rarely stop to ponder our place in this universe. Do we ever grasp how fragile and insignificant we and our planet genuinely are? Sixty-five million years ago an asteroid hit the Earth in the Yucatan Peninsula and wiped out over 90% of life on our planet. It can happen again. I hope it doesn’t.

There is a song by the band Tool called “Right in Two” that I think is relevant for all time. Some of the lyrics go like this.

"Monkey killing monkey killing monkey over pieces of the ground. Silly monkeys. Give them thumbs, they make a club to beat their brother down. How they’ve survived so misguided is a mystery. Repugnant is a creature who would squander the ability To lift an eye to heaven, conscious of his fleeting time here."

Can we stop being consumed by ourselves, electronic devices, gossips, selfish desires and consider the person next to us, the person across the street or the person in another country?

Can we stop and think about our planet, our home, and for once perhaps, stop killing ourselves over silly things, like differences of religion or plots of land on a piece of paper? If we could all take a broader view of life and realize that we’re all on this rock together and we need to make the best of it because it’s the only rock we have. I wish we could stop using our talent and intelligence for killing, for selfishness, revenge, passive-aggressive tendencies, and wanton desires and instead put it towards helping one another. Put it towards improving ourselves, our environment, our education, and toward being more positive.

“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

Download the pdf version with pictures here.