I didn’t know about the “Pale Blue Dot” until just recently. Don’t know how I missed it, but I did. Many people mentioned it to me in the last couple of months and they were all very surprised that I didn’t know about it. I’m surprised too – I’m a scientist – how could I have missed this? And now that I am aware of it, it brings a certain level of significance to me, and the reason behind that might be a bit surprising.
What is the Pale Blue Dot?
Just in case you don’t know about this photograph either, it was taken in 1990 by the Voyager 1 space probe when it was about 6 billion kilometres away from Earth. On the face of it, it’s not a very significant photograph as it appears to only show some rays of light but, within one of those rays there is a tiny speck (just one pixel) that is the Earth. That’s the “dot” we’re talking about.
An insignificant speck?
It’s easy for us to look at the Earth in this way and to consider how insignificant we are in the grand scheme of the universe. This argument leads to the question – “how can the life on this planet be so important when our home is limited to such a tiny speck in the vast extent of the universe?”. It’s humbling to see and to accept our lack of grandeur. It’s almost like we are virtually “nothing” when it comes to the universe. But is this a correct way of thinking?
Accepting our importance
The other way of thinking about the “Pale Blue Dot” is that in the vast universe that we know we are part of and that we’ve studied deeply and more deeply over the decades, the Earth is the only location where there is evidence of life (as we experience on Earth). Out of all this vast universe, maybe Earth is the only place, or one of few, where conscious life exists. Now, the Earth starts to become a place of wonder and amazement. Maybe it takes an enormous universe to generate such a special place as Earth to house life.
This is what the Pale Blue Dot tells me. The Earth and the life upon it are extremely special. A very, very rare set of circumstances have come together to allow life to flourish here. We need to respect this and cherish it – a special blend of circumstances to allow ourselves to experience life. How can we scoff at this and treat the Earth with disdain? The only proper responses are reverence and marvel. Let’s admire and revel in these unique circumstances and ensure we truly experience life while the opportunity is there.
We are not just an insignificant blip in a huge universe, we are something very special because nearly everything we can observe cannot sustain life, but there’s an abundance of it on this little, pale blue dot. That shows how wonderfully special the Earth is and how amazingly precious the system of life is that we have here. It would be incredible if we weren’t here to witness it. Is that why we’re here? So we can marvel at the life that exists here?
- Information from Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pale_Blue_Dot
- Marking the 30th Anniversary of the photo on EarthSky – https://earthsky.org/space/february-14-1990-pale-blue-dot-image-voyager
- Some relevant pages from NASA;
- The words of Carl Sagan in these videos