All We're Really Thankful For: A Blue Pixel

Another year of boredoms and excitements, pleasures and aggravations, fears, dramas, the endless stream of tiny events and words, all the magazine articles and blog posts, movies, TV shows and celebrities, the silly emails and the tragedies. All of the bits, the bites, the break-ups and the break-downs, the pictures, the promises.

And it all happened on what Carl Sagan called "a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam." Just look at how tiny we are. I know how hippie or trippy it sounds. But dudes: think of how close we are, and how this is all there is: what we do to each other, and to our only home.

As Black Friday descends upon us (joy of joys), remember the Blue Dot.

pale blue dot sagan photo

As Voyager 1 exited the solar system in 1990 to visit Saturn, Carl Sagan convinced NASA to have it turn back toward the sun and snap one last photo of our planet. Earth showed up as a pale blue dot - a single .12 of a pixel in a grainy image, taken 4 billion miles away.

Sagan described the power of that symbol in his book and in a commencement address he gave in 1996 a few months before his death.

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.

Another nice version of Sagan's "pale blue dot":

I noticed this comment beneath one of the Sagan videos:

If nothing we do matters, all that matters is what we do.

Video by David Fu of Pale Blue Films
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