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How One Photograph Can Change a Person’s Perspective: The Pale Blue Dot

The photograph known as “The Pale Blue Dot” (seen below the video) is an image taken in 1990 by the Voyager 1 space probe. Taken from an unfathomable distance of six billion kilometers (or 3.7 billion miles) in space, the photo depicts Earth as a tiny, pale blue dot surrounded by vast darkness. According to NASA, Earth takes up less than one pixel in the original 640,000-pixel photograph. The picture has become a symbol of the infiniteness of the universe, and our comparatively small part in it, showing the power of photography to put life into perspective.

The following video, compiled by Reid Gower as part of the educational project known as The Sagan Series, presents late scientist Carl Sagan’s poetic reflections on the significance of this photograph. Featuring narration from Sagan’s PBS series Cosmos (drawn from his book Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space) paired with illustrative photos, the video proves both thought-provoking and inspirational:

Sagan’s eloquent words are worth reading in full, and can be found below, along with selected photos from the video:

“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.

“The Pale Blue Dot” photo, taken by Voyager 1

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, 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.

Earth’s size compared to Saturn

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 only home we’ve ever known—The Pale Blue Dot.”

[via PictureCorrect Photography Tips]

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