Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Pale Blue Dot

The expression 'pale blue dot' was first coined by astrophysicist Carl Sagan.

He was one of the guiding lights behind the Voyager missions of the late 1970s that sent two probes to explore the outer planets. Twelve years after Voyager 1 left Earth, it was on the outer fringes of our solar system.

Sagan campaigned NASA to have the probe's camera turned towards Earth to take a photo. The subsequent image was of a single blue pixel -- the Earth -- almost invisible in the larger background of the scattered light rays of the sun and infinite space beyond.

The image of that single blue pixel inspired Sagan to ruminate on its larger implications. These meditations became the subject of a book and a speech later dubbed 'The Pale Blue Dot'.

The pale blue dot reminds us of the importance of perspective. The worries that gnaw at us... the regrets that burden us... the daily irritations that consume us... they don't mean much seen from 6 billion miles away.

Many of the Apollo astronauts were profoundly affected by their experience for much the same reason. Seeing the earth and the entirely of the human race from the surface of another world had the effect of reminding them that our common humanity on this frail planet lost in space is stronger than any national or religious differences that we may have.

When you get overwhelmed at times take a deep breath or two or three. Imagine yourself expanding outwards... past forests, past oceans and deserts... As you expand out past the atmosphere of earth itself the noise of humanity itself starts to fade in the distance. You continue to expand further still, out beyond the orbit of the moon, further and further, out beyond the orbits of the nearest planets...

Imagine our blue marble shrinking in the distance falling further and further behind until it is only a single blue point in a sea of brilliant stars.

As you stare at it from a God's-eye view six billion miles away you are overcome with a profound and overwhelming calmness as the insignificance of your puny cares and worries in the grand scheme of the universe become apparent.

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