Saturday, August 10, 2013

Views Toward Home

Views of the Earth recorded from interplanetary spacecraft are relatively rare.

Images made from space looking back towards Earth give us a culturally unprecedented perspective on the vast space and flash of time in which we exist.
"Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us."
Carl Sagan
Earthrise, 1968
from Apollo 8

Earthrise is the name of an iconic photograph of the Earth taken during the Apollo 8 moon mission in December 1968. This photograph was made by astronaut William Anders seven months before the first lunar landing.
"The most influential environmental photograph ever taken."
- Galen Rowell, wilderness photographer
This image, recorded at a distance of 240,000 miles, is the first view of earth from an interplanetary spacecraft.

Pale Blue Dot

Pale Blue Dot, 1990
from Voyager 1
Pale Blue Dot is the name of a photograph of Earth taken from a record distance of 3.7 billion miles from our planet by the Voyager 1 spacecraft in 1990.

The primary mission of Voyager 1 was to leave the solar system, but the unmanned spacecraft was commanded by NASA to turn its camera back to photograph the Earth at the request of cosmologist Carl Sagan.

This photograph shows earth as a barely perceptible dot travelling in the dark expanse of space.

Some Perspective

At some distance, the Earth becomes barely perceptible. Humans, along with all other living organisms, are temporary voyagers in a vast, expansive system.

From cosmologist Carl Sagan:
"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 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. 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.

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."