“Pale Blue Dot.” The earth can be seen in the middle of the ray of light on the furthest right. Given the size of the image, the earth appears as only a mere pin-prick.
As of the 21th January, 2022, it was 23.307 billion kilometres from earth. That means the Voyager I space probe is now the most distant artificial object from home and indeed the first to have left our solar system. Though these may seem practical words merely stating a fact, they convey an awe-inspiring gravity.
Launched on the 5th September, 1977, Voyager I spent decades within our solar system collecting data—discovering a thin ring around Jupiter and two new Jovan moons were but two of its discoveries. Carl Sagan, a scientist of astronomy and astrophysics was a member of the NASA team responsible for Voyager I. He had a particular idea.
The idea was that before Voyager I crossed the boundary into interstellar space1, NASA would transmit a critial command sequence to its computers. The instruction would be for the Voyager I’s camera to turn back towards earth and take one final snapshot of us before it left. The resulting picture was taken and it became known as the “pale blue dot,” a phrase coined by Sagan. It was simple enough. However, while the subsequent image of our planet only appeared to be a few millimetres in length, its meaning was orders of magnitude greater.
With a feeling of supreme humility, one gazes at this photograph. Life continues on that pale blue dot and has for millions of years. For humans, late arrivals to the biosphere, there are constant conflicts and difficulties with which we contend. They involve an innumerable number of people on our planet. Social and political struggles afflict us in every way. Many times, it is the ravening hunger for power and money that lies at its heart. Too many lives are lost in its pursuit.
Likewise, countless joys have been played out on that pale blue dot. People giving and sharing kindness and exhibiting compassion and dignity to others in myriad ways, sometimes breathtaking in their sheer wholeheartedness. This has made every difference, ensuring that no matter how distraught and downtrodden our lives may become, there are always means by which we can overcome.
So, when we cast an eye to the pale blue dot, even the most steadfast and striving dictator must pause. For it is with an eye to this image that we are reminded how we are truly one. This is the case, despite the innumerable differences and disparities of colour, religion, economic status, sex, way of life that unhinge our lives. However, those differences do not matter.
Ultimately, we are life. The trees, birds, insects, reptiles, mammals, single-celled species. All of us. Of course we are different. And periodically, we may be wooed by a feeling of power granted by our position economically, militarily, or politically. Still, before we act, it is vital we remember that this creature, two or four-legged we intend to impose our rule over shares this lonely planet amidst billions of light years all around—and has done so for a very long time.
We may be alone in this immense universe. But we are together, bound innately—genetically in fact. Scientists have learned that 99.9 percent of the genetic information in a human’s DNA is common to all of us. Whatever is not included accounts for the remaining 0.01 percent differences in things like hair, eye and skin colour, height and susceptibility to particular diseases. It’s barely anything. Still, one, we are.
In fact, we apparently share 98.7% of our genetic sequencing with chimpanzees. But more surprisingly, we actually share 90% with the Abyssinian house cat and on average, 85% with mice. That’s fairly close. More notably, we share more than 50% of our genetic information with plants—60% with a banana. We’re more than half plant.
When we look upon that tiny blue dot, it seems so unimportant, a minuscule bit of nothingness. Over the thousands of years we have been here, each and every one of us has sought to live a life of meaning, full and replete with both exuberant joys and unfortunate woes of every kind.
We can let Carl Sagan have the final word.
— Carl Sagan
“From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again 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.”
Sagan, Carl (1997). Pale Blue Dot. United States: Random House USA Inc. p. 6-7. ISBN 9780345376596