Earth - A Pale Blue Dot

Pale Blue Dot

On September 5, 1977, the Voyager 1 space probe was launched by NASA from the Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex in Florida. It flew by Jupiter on March 5, 1979, followed by Saturn on November 12, 1980. At the request of Carl Sagan, on February 14, 1990, NASA engineers turned the spacecraft around in order to take the first ever 'portrait' of the solar system as seen from the outside. A series of pictures were taken of the sun and the planets using Voyager 1's cameras. Narrow-angle images of Earth, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and the Sun were acquired as the spacecraft built the wide-angle mosaic. Between February 14, 1990 and June 6, 1990, Voyager 1 returned 60 frames back to Earth.

One picture at first glance is mostly dark and appears to show nothing at all. But upon a closer look it is a much more dramatic photo. If you look closely, you can see a tiny speck of light. That speck is Earth, as seen by Voyager 1 from about 4 billion miles away.

The late astronomer Carl Sagan eloquently tried to express how he felt about this photo in his book Pale Blue Dot:

"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."

Pale Blue Dot Original Taken from Voyager 1 in 1990. Photo Credit: NASA

Cassini space probe

In 2006 the Cassini spacecraft attempted to duplicate the 'Pale Blue Dot' image that Voyager 1 had captured 16 years earlier. Cassini snapped a beautiful image of Saturn including the full extent of its rings. Near the edge of Saturn's rings hovered the faint speck that is Earth as it appears in the vast emptiness of space. The capture of this image was advertised a month in advance in what NASA dubbed 'Wave at Saturn day.' People were encouraged to stand outside and pose for the capture of this image. North America happened to be the primary section of Earth facing towards Saturn on the day the picture was taken.

Click the image below to view it in full size. Earth is the white dot above and to the left of Saturn's rings. Earth appears fuzzy due to over exposure of the image.

saturn_earth_cassini_2006 Taken from the Cassini spacecraft in 2006.
Photo Credit: NASA

One cannot help but marvel at how small our world is in the enormous volume of empty space. Our Earth is indeed a candle in the dark. For now it is the only home we have. And it will probably be that way for at least a little while longer. Everything that makes us who we are exists here. Our planet is a priceless gift.

What do you think? How does this image make you feel?

Sources: NASA - Voyager, NASA - Wave at Saturn Day

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