Voyager 1 is currently the most distant man made object. Launched in 1977, it has long passed the orbit of Pluto and is on its way to the stars. In 1990, it took multiple photos of the solar system to create what is known as The Family Portrait.
As part of the Family Portrait, Voyager 1 took photos of Earth as well. Known as The Pale Blue Dot photos, a term coined by Carl Sagan, they give us a peek into the immensity of the universe and how insignificant and temporal our existence is.
<Earth is circled>
<Earth can be seen as a dot in the rightmost ray>
This is what Carl Sagan had to say about the photos
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.
<All images courtesy Wikipedia and NASA>
Voyager 1 is at a distance of 0.002 light years from Sun. At that distance it takes 17.5 hours for the Sun’s light to reach the craft. By comparison, we are about 8 light minutes from Sun while Mars is just 4-5 light minutes away. With the current technology, it would take almost 6 months to reach the red planet. Just imagine how far Voyager 1 is! Mars is just 4 mins down the road, while Voyager is 17.5 hours away! It just blows your mind that even if we travel with the speed of light, most of the universe is beyond our reach of exploration. What wonders might there be which we would never come to know of. One episode of “Dr. Who” showed a time billions of years in the future whence aliens and what remains of humanity come to watch the dying throbs of The Sol (The sun). Makes you wonder what lies in the future.
The thought that in the insignificant span of my life, I would not be able to see and explore more than a minuscule part of this almost infinite universe fills me with a sadness that cannot be put into words. I have always believed that
“Somewhere, Something incredible is waiting to be discovered.” ~ Carl Sagan
I think I will spend and end my life looking for that incredible.