A Pale Blue Dot

The following excerpt from Carl Sagan's book Pale Blue Dot was inspired by an image taken, at Sagan's suggestion, by Voyager 1 on 14 February 1990. As the spacecraft was departing our planetary neighborhood for the fringes of the solar system, it turned it around for one last look at its home planet.

Voyager 1 was about 6.4 billion kilometers (4 billion miles) away, and approximately 32 degrees above the ecliptic plane, when it captured this portrait of our world. Caught in the center of scattered light rays (a result of taking the picture so close to the Sun), Earth appears as a tiny point of light, a crescent only 0.12 pixel in size.

The Pale Blue Dot of Earth
The Pale Blue Dot of Earth "That's here. That's Home. That's us." NASA / JPL

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 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.

— Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994

Copyright © 1994 by Carl Sagan, Copyright © 2006 by Democritus Properties, LLC.
All rights reserved including the rights of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

Carl Sagan Unveils the Pale Blue Dot Carl Sagan, Planetary Society co-founder, unveils the Pale Blue Dot image at a press conference on the Voyager missions in 1990.

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Earth was not the only world Voyager 1 imaged. The spacecraft also captured views of Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Mercury and Mars were lost in the Sun's glare.

The Solar System Family Portrait
The Solar System Family Portrait Voyager 1's last view, looking back on every planet in the solar system. NASA / JPL