Our Pale Blue Dot
by G G Collins (Copyright 2017)
In August and September of 1977, Voyager 1 and 2 were launched into space. And although they have a memory 240 times less than the smart phone you’re probably holding in your hand right now, they are still boldly going where we’ve never gone before.
If you didn’t make it to your local indie theatre to see The Farthest: Voyager in Space, search for it on PBS where it is playing or buy the DVD. It follows the men and women who asked all the questions beginning with “what if.” These are scientists who are still excited and sometimes teary-eyed about what they did and the messages these early space explorer vehicles continue to send back. Voyager 1 has entered interstellar space. Yes that’s right; interstellar space.
While most of us are familiar with the golden record of photos, music and greetings that accompanied both crafts, it is the scientists who really shine in this documentary. These are the people who saw the planets in all their magnificence for the first time. You will too. From a flickering film reminiscent of an early talkie to their glorious close-ups: Jupiter’s Red Spot, Saturn’s Rings and Neptune’s Great Dark Spot. Professor and author of The Interstellar Age, Jim Bell, described it as “A point of light that became a world.”
As Voyager 1 raced by Neptune, its last port of call, there was a wish to turn the spacecraft around and shoot some family photos of our solar system. Not everyone was interested and some speculated that it would burn up the camera. But Dr. Carl Sagan went to NASA top administration and pleaded the case. We are all richer for his efforts.
On Valentine’s Day, 1990, Voyager 1 turned to take a lingering look at our solar system from four billion miles away. It was able to capture Neptune, Uranus, Saturn, Jupiter, Earth and Venus from a vantage point that had never been seen before.
When the photos were ready, Dr. Candice Hansen, a planetary scientist, tried to flick a speck of dust off the picture only to realize, that speck was Earth.
Later at 1994 lecture Sagan would say “The Earth in a sunbeam. This is where you live — on a pale blue dot,” he observed. “I think this perspective underscores our responsibility to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we have.
“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.”
Sagan would later expand his statement about the photograph in his book, “Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space.”
“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.”
See The Farthest, however you can and as soon as you can. Insignificance has never felt so damn great!
The Farthest Trailer: