In Honor of Dr. Sagan

The November reading for  the NOSHA meeting by Connie Roeder Gordon Schultz (November 21, 2015)


In 1990 as Voyager 1 spacecraft sailed away from Earth, Ground Control issued a command that directed the craft to turn around and look back from its 4 billion mile vantage point and photograph all the planets it had passed leaving our solar system.

“From Voyager’s vast distance, the Earth was captured as an infinitesimal point of light, actually smaller than a single pixel of a photo.  The image was taken with a narrow angle camera lens, with the Sun quite close to the field of view.  Quite by accident, the Earth was captured in one of the scattered light rays caused by taking the image at an angle so close to the Sun.”  Dr. Carl Sagan was quite moved by that pale blue dot in the photograph.

In 1994, Dr. Sagan published Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space.

I want to read a couple of pertinent excerpts from that book, not only in honor of Dr. Sagan’s recent birthday, November 9, but also as we share in the recent atrocities that continue to wrack our tiny planet and ALL OF HUMANITY, all seven-plus billion of us, not just in Paris, or Beirut, or Syria, or in Nigeria, and just yesterday in Mali, or in a movie theater in Lafayette, or a community college in Oregon, or at a historically black church in South Carolina, but everywhere on our pale blue dot.


“From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of 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. 

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.” 

And one more excerpt . . .

Ann Druyan [Dr. Sagan’s wife] suggests an experiment: Look back again at the pale blue dot . . . . Take a good long look at it. Stare at the dot for any length of time and then try to convince yourself that God created the whole Universe for one of the 10 million or so species of life that inhabit that speck of dust. Now take it a step further: Imagine that everything was made just for a single shade of that species, or gender, or ethnic or religious subdivision. If this doesn’t strike you as unlikely, pick another dot. Imagine it to be inhabited by a different form of intelligent life. They, too, cherish the notion of a God who has created everything for their benefit. How seriously do you take their claim?”