Pale Blue Dot

by Tanya
Publish date
27 July 2013
Comments (3)

I’ve often felt that one of the most amazing things about space exploration is that moment when we turn back and look at ourselves. The Cassini spacecraft, which has been orbiting Saturn since 2004, has done just that.

The Earth from Saturn On 19th July 2013, NASA's Cassini spacecraft looked back at Earth to capture a view of our planet against Saturn's magnificent rings.
Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Carl Sagan was the first to impress on us just how powerful such an image would be and he was also able to capture the moment beautifully in words “a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam".


Earth from Voyager The pale blue dot of Earth as seen from a distance of 6 billion km and captured by NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft in 1990.
Source: NASA/JPL

What I hadn’t fully realized until last year, was just how hard Sagan had to work to convince officials to turn Voyager’s cameras back to Earth. This theme was explored through the play “Pale Blue Dot” by OpticNerve Performance Group and performed at the Malthouse last year – a perfect example of science meets art.

The new image from Cassini has such high resolution that it's possible to zoom in and see the Earth and Moon together, as tiny points of light. Now what might Sagan have thought of that?

Earth and Moon from Saturn The Earth and Moon from a distance of 1.5 billion km.
Source: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

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

--Carl Sagan, from a Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space


Discover the Night Sky - astronomy classes at the Melbourne Planetarium


Comments (3)

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Susan BC 29 July, 2013 11:38
Thanks for another inspiring and breathtaking blog entry Tanya. Great to have this perspective and such thought provoking words from Carl Sagan.Great.
Andrew 8 August, 2013 16:00
The significance of that historic image is totally understated. Prior to that image being released, ideologies such as religious doctrine taught us all that we were the centre of the universe and that their doctrines ruled. The truth is that this image showed us all that we are simply an insignificant grain of sand in a universe that is much more complicated and larger then we could have ever imagined. Thanks Tanya.
Robyn 6 September, 2013 10:44
When we look out at the planets and stars they are so small in comparison to us. When we look at this picture we see the opposite. Who is so small now?
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