Pale Blue Dot

Discussion in 'Science & Society' started by James R, Aug 30, 2015.

  1. James R Just this guy, you know? Staff Member


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    Pale Blue Dot is a photograph of planet Earth taken on February 14, 1990, by the Voyager 1 space probe from a record distance of about 6 billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles, 40.5 AU), as part of the Family Portrait series of images of the Solar System.

    In the photograph, Earth's apparent size is less than a pixel; the planet appears as a tiny dot against the vastness of space, among bands of sunlight scattered by the camera's optics.

    Voyager 1, which had completed its primary mission and was leaving the Solar System, was commanded by NASA to turn its camera around and take one last photograph of Earth across a great expanse of space, at the request of astronomer and author Carl Sagan
    [ Image: NASA. Text source:]

    Here's what Carl Sagan had to say about this image (from his book 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 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. 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.

    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 have no real reason to post this other than that I was reminded of it last night and I find the quote (and the whole motivation behind the image itself) to be inspiring.

    There probably should be a question here, so here's one:

    What kinds of things do you think are best at helping us to see the world and our place in it in perspective? And more broadly, what are the best ways to lead people to reflect on their similarities rather than their differences?
    zgmc and Dr_Toad like this.
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  3. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

    I read Sagan's book "The Pale Blue Dot" and couldn't agree more of the inspiration behind the dialogue that he attributed to that photograph.
    It is perhaps my all time favourite inspirational quote.
    Worth noting that it was also actually Carl's own idea to turn Voyager's cameras back towards the inner solar system, to get such a moving awe inspiring photograph.
    The HST image of the eagle nebula was another that inspired me to the wonders of astronomy, cosmology and science in general.
    In his own dulcet tones........
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  5. Oystein Registered Senior Member

    For future probes it will be a pale brown dot, courtesy of human-made pollution. Give us time . . . we can do it.
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  7. Dr_Toad It's green! Valued Senior Member

    Wow. Thanks for the down.

    Hope is all I have that you're wrong...
  8. Oystein Registered Senior Member

    That's a shame, because hope, by itself, is almost useless. Next you'll be praying, which is even more useless. Action gets things done.
  9. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

    The simple facts of the near infinite numbers involved...the distances involved...the stuff of life being everywhere we look.....the facts of the absolute nature of "c" and the non absolute nature of space and time, and what that truly means with regards to everyone's FoR...the fact that we do not have a universal now......the facts that some stars we look at tonight, while being there from our FoR, are also possibly not there from a local FoR to the star...the facts that we were all born in the belly of stars.......the fact that we have a reasonable handle on how the Universe/spacetime evolved 13.83 billion years ago, and how our first fundamentals evolved from that spacetime, to coalesce into our first atomic nuclei, and then atoms of H and He, and then coalesced into stars, that then spewed forth their guts to finally bring forth planets etc, and finally life and you and me.......
    Awesome, mind boggling inspiring stuff.
  10. danshawen Valued Senior Member

    Sagan's commentary on that "pale blue dot" was in part inspired by a line from a very popular movie at the time, "Patton", starring George C. Scott. The line that likely inspired Sagan's comment about the "glory of war" on that pale blue dot:

    “Compared to war, all other forms of human endeavor shrink to insignificance. God help me, I do love it so.”
    George S. Patton Jr.
  11. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

    Did he actually say that? Or is that just Hollywood?

    My opinion on Carl Sagan is well know. I see him as the greatest educator of our time, as well as a great thoughtful and realistic scientist.
    While expounding the real logical idea that life would be plentiful throughout the Universe, he also just as diligently, investigated the UFO/Alien phenomenon, and showed that to be baseless and scientifically unproven.
    zgmc and danshawen like this.
  12. danshawen Valued Senior Member

    Patton actually said that.

    Sagan wins. We should all yearn for a pale blue dot in which the accomplishments of the warrior poet General George S. Patton and Alexander the Great is what shrinks to insignificance, and their poetry ring as hollow as Shelly's 'Ozymandius'. "Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair!" (His works were ruins)

    I'd give a lot to find out who finally killed Patton. Putin knows.
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2015
  13. John Connellan Valued Senior Member

    ...a photograph of planet Earth taken on February 14, 1990, by the Voyager 1 space probe from a record distance of about 6 billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles, 40.5 AU)

    No chance of V1 ever showing any more photos of earth. It is now nearly 20 billion kilometers away and the sun itself would appear as just another indistinguishable star. Must feel pretty lonely out there!
  14. Quantum Quack Life's a tease... Valued Senior Member

  15. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    Photo, mostly black, in post 11 asks: "We are in control, aren't we?"
    Unfortunately, the answer is: YES.
  16. Quantum Quack Life's a tease... Valued Senior Member

    hmmm. how so...?
    I am only supporting Carl Sagan's POV as mentioned in the OP.
    The universe is awfully big on potential
  17. zgmc Registered Senior Member

    I was introduced to science through watching the original Cosmos. I went on to read every book I could find by the great Carl Sagan. I think I'm going to pull one of his books off the shelf...
  18. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    I was only saying humans are, unfortunately in control of the pale blue dot - not rest of universe.
  19. Quantum Quack Life's a tease... Valued Senior Member

    I think one of the main reasons why astronauts report a religious type experience when they go in to orbit is that it is impossible to not realize that whilst we may be given stewardship of this pale blue dot we certainly can never be in control of her.
    The illusion of control is a huge issue for the human ego ( false pride )
    "If one can not absolutely determine where and when one will die then any sense of control must be an illusion of ego"

    and you are right it is unfortunate that we as a race think we are in control when we obviously are not.
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2015
  20. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    Individuals often think that they can be incontrol of their lives - but that is an illusion, encouraged by this short poem:
    One ship sails East,
    And another West,
    By the self-same winds that blow,
    Tis the set of the sails
    And not the gales,
    That tells the way we go.

    I'll briefly tell an example, one of many, from my life that shows chance is really what determines how your life goes:

    As a grad student, I worked two summers at LASL. In the first, as an assistant to Neal C. also my friend who taught me the essence of techincal rock climbing on week-ends. On trip back to LASL for 2nd summer, the timing gear in my VW broke while going thru W. Va. It is deep in the interior of the motor. The mechanic & I tested every thing else that could explain why motor would not run to conclude that a broken timing gear was the cause.

    The mechanic had never worked on a VW and only seen a few. So I decided to do a complete engine swap*, but that took several days and made me arrive at LASL not on Friday as planned. That week-end, Neal led a party of about 15 other climbers on a bare rock mountain. He and one other, roped together, tried to take a short-cut over a rubble field, which slid, killing both. I am 100% sure I would have gone with Neal too as I only knew him. That timing gear saved my life. Their bodies were never recovered - deep below tons of rock rubble.

    * Quite simple in the old VW - four bolts and several simple cable connections.

    Humanity is in charge of the habitality of the Earth, and doing a terrible job of preserving that. - Point of my "yes" posted in post 12, replying to your question.
    Quantum Quack likes this.
  21. Quantum Quack Life's a tease... Valued Senior Member

    Billy T
    The prose you posted was so good, I did a bit of a Google search and found the remaining verse:
    "The Winds of Fate"
    Ella Wheeler Wilcox, 1850- 1919

    One ship drives east and another drives west
    With the selfsame winds that blow.
    'Tis the set of the sails,
    And Not the gales,
    That tell us the way to go.

    Like the winds of the sea are the ways of fate;
    As we voyage along through life,
    'Tis the set of a soul
    That decides its goal,
    And not the calm or the strife.
    danshawen likes this.
  22. The God Valued Senior Member


    Must have been a very sad and humbling experience.

    But can you just brush it aside by saying that it was just a chance ? I am not advocating anything but there are many people (2 I know of personally) who would have experienced such jolts, saved by chance, but the most intriguing part is somehow the individual involved realises his own helplessness and vulnerability and trust & faith in something invisible grows up after such experiences. The later part is disputable but the individual never ignores the later part just because of any kind of false bravado which he would have had prior to such incidents.
  23. Billy T Use Sugar Cane Alcohol car Fuel Valued Senior Member

    By Brazilian wife, is convenced she (and to some extent me) have "guardian angels" but I am more inclined to say "chance" as too often the very young and innocent have terrible things happen to them.

    There is always problem of Hitler, et. al. If there were a supernatural force for good, he could have had a heart attack at a young age, but did not and 10 million or so were executed.

    I met my beautiful Brazilian professor wife in Accopulco on the beach one after noon and we did not separate until 4AM - She had to leave to pack as at 7AM her bus tour group was leaving. We exchanged addresses, but I probably would not have written to her half a world away in Sao Paulo, except on flight back to Maryland the plane had a serious problem that took 24 hours to fix. They put me up in a Dallas hotel, and with nothing to do, I wrote to her. She wrote to me before she got that letter, and many letters crossed in the mail. Then 3 or 4 brief visits each way. In less than a year from our first brief meeting, I sold every material asset I had and went to live in her apartment - all because an airplane had a problem, my life completely change 21 years ago.

    I don't know if "humbling" is best word, but these chance experience, do make you understand that it is only an illusion you and many have that they are in control of their lives. But one should also remember Firestone's reply to a reporter who said: So it was just chance, a glob of latex falling on the hot cast iron stove, that made your discovery? Firestone replied: "Yes, but lady luck favors a prepared mind."
    Last edited: Nov 13, 2015

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