The Only Home We’ve Ever Known

Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite took this picture of earth from 1 million miles away on July 6th.


(Right click on image above and “Open image in new tab” to see full version.)
That picture is a lot closer than the photograph of planet Earth taken on February 14, 1990, by the Voyager 1 space probe from a record distance of about 6 billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles, 40.5 AU).


The caption to the picture in the wiki says, “Seen from about 6 billion kilometers, Earth appears as a tiny dot (the blueish-white speck approximately halfway down the brown band to the right) within the darkness of deep space.”

Carl Sagan’s meditations on that picture appear in his 1994 book Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. Listen to Carl read from the book.

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again 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.

The Voyager 1 spacecraft is itself a remarkable creation of human engineering and vision. It’s been on its voyage for nearly 38 years.

The wiki notes:

The spacecraft, travelling at 40,000 miles per hour (64,000 km/h), is the farthest man-made object from Earth and the first one to leave the Solar System. Its mission has been extended and continues to this day, with the aim of investigating the boundaries of the Solar system, including the Kuiper belt, the heliosphere and interstellar space. Operating for 37 years, 10 months and 17 days as of today (July 24, 2015), it receives routine commands and transmits data back to the Deep Space Network.

The Voyager 1 reminds me of one of my favorite songs by my favorite band. “Gypsy” by the Moody Blues. It could be about Voyager 1: “Left without a hope of coming home.”

by The Moody Blues

A gypsy of a strange and distant time
Travelling in panic all direction blind
Aching for the warmth of a burning sun
Freezing in the emptiness of where he’d come from
Ah ah . . .
Left without a hope of coming home

Speeding through a shadow of a million years
Darkness is the only sound to reach his ears
Frightening him with the visions of eternity
Screaming for a future that can never be
Ah ah . . .
Left without a hope of coming home . . . .

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.

Author: Atanu Dey


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