View Full Version : Pale Blue Dot

01-30-2009, 07:43 PM
It's where the quote in my sig is from.

Pale Blue Dot is a book by Carl Sagan about our place in the universe. It shows a model of our existence from all angles, explaining the size of our world, and of the possibility of others like our own. It discusses how we got started, how we're getting started in reaching out to other planets, and how we are going to get there.

It has often been said that astronomy is a humbling experience. It opens our minds to our true value in the universe.
Pale Blue Dot doesn't quite open our minds so much as rip them wide open.

If you ever wondered where the beauty in science was, read Pale Blue Dot.

Anyway, here's more of the quote in my sig, and some other quotes in the book.

* 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.

It is sometimes said that scientists are unromantic, that their passion to figure out robs the world of beauty and mystery. But is it not stirring to understand how the world actually works that white light is made of colors, that color is the way we perceive the wavelengths of light, that transparent air reflects light, that in so doing it discriminates among the waves, and that the sky is blue for the same reason that the sunset is red? It does no harm to the romance of the sunset to know a little bit about it.

Ann Druyan suggest an experiment: Look back again at the pale blue dot of the preceding chapter. 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?

It took the Church until 1832 to remove Galileo's work from its list of books which Catholics were forbidden to read at the risk of dire punishment of their immortal souls.

We've tended in our cosmologies to make things familiar. Despite all our best efforts, we've not been very inventive. In the West, Heaven is placid and fluffy, and Hell is like the inside of a volcano. In many stories, both realms are governed by dominance hierarchies headed by gods or devils. Monotheists talked about the king of kings. In every culture we imagined something like our own political system running the Universe. Few found the similarity suspicious.

In some respects, science has far surpassed religion in delivering awe. How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, "This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant. God must be even greater than we dreamed"? Instead they say, "No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way."

Once we overcome our fear of being tiny, we find ourselves on the threshold of a vast and awesome Universe that utterly dwarfs in time, in space, and in potential the tidy anthropocentric proscenium of our ancestors. We gaze across billions of light-years of space to view the Universe shortly after the Big Bang, and plumb the fine structure of matter. We peer down into the core of our planet, and the blazing interior of our star. We read the genetic language in which is written the diverse skills and propensities of every being on Earth. We uncover hidden chapters in the record of our origins, and with some anguish better understand our nature and prospects. We invent and refine agriculture, without which almost all of us would starve to death. We create medicines and vaccines that save the lives of billions. We communicate at the speed of light, and whip around the Earth in an hour and a half. We have sent dozens of ships to more than seventy worlds, and four spacecraft to the stars. We are right to rejoice in our accomplishments, to be proud that our species has been able to see so far, and to judge our merit in part by the very science that has so deflated our pretensions.

Those who are skeptical about carbon dioxide greenhouse warming might profitably note the massive greenhouse effect on Venus. No one proposes that Venus's greenhouse effect derives from imprudent Venusians who burned too much coal, drove fuel-inefficient autos, and cut down their forests. My point is different. The climatological history of our planetary neighbor, an otherwise Earthlike planet on which the surface became hot enough to melt tin or lead, is worth considering especially by those who say that the increasing greenhouse effect on Earth will be self-correcting, that we don't really have to worry about it, or (you can see this in the publications of some groups that call themselves conservative) that the greenhouse effect is a "hoax".

A scientific colleague tells me about a recent trip to the New Guinea highlands where she visited a stone age culture hardly contacted by Western civilization. They were ignorant of wristwatches, soft drinks, and frozen food. But they knew about Apollo 11. They knew that humans had walked on the Moon. They knew the names of Armstrong and Aldrin and Collins. They wanted to know who was visiting the Moon these days.

Since, in the long run, every planetary society will be endangered by impacts from space, every surviving civilization is obliged to become spacefaring not because of exploratory or romantic zeal, but for the most practical reason imaginable: staying alive.

Imagine we could accelerate continuously at 1 g what we're comfortable with on good old terra firma to the midpoint of our voyage, and decelerate continuously at 1 g until we arrive at our destination. It would take a day to get to Mars, a week and a half to Pluto, a year to the Oort Cloud, and a few years to the nearest stars.

The vast distances that separate the stars are providential. Beings and worlds are quarantined from one another. The quarantine is lifted only for those with sufficient self-knowledge and judgement to have safely traveled from star to star.

Modern science has been a voyage into the unknown, with a lesson in humility waiting at every stop. Many passengers would rather have stayed home.

If we crave some cosmic purpose, then let us find ourselves a worthy goal.

01-30-2009, 07:58 PM
how did they get that picture btw

01-30-2009, 08:31 PM
Carl Sagan, who was active on the team controlling the Voyager 1 space probe, instructed the team to turn the camera towards Earth from 6.054 billion kilometers away. Here's the approximate location, with Earth at the center, at the start of the red line, a green oval marking the probe's location, and the red line showing it's path from Earth.


01-30-2009, 08:49 PM
damn, thats not even far away

01-30-2009, 08:51 PM
Let me reiterate.

"6.054 billion kilometers"

Think about how long it take to walk one kilometer.

Then think about how long it takes to travel 60 kilometers at 60kph.

Then think about how many hours it would take to travel 6000 kilometers at that speed.

And now consider traveling 6.054 billion kilometers.

01-30-2009, 09:07 PM
I mean compared to the rest of space

01-30-2009, 09:14 PM
Ah. Yeah, it's not the greatest expanse, but considering how well you can see the Earth in the picture, did you expect more?