Our Planet is a Lonely Speck in the Great Enveloping Cosmic Dark

Today is the anniversary of one of the greatest photos ever taken.

On February 14th, 1990, as the Voyager 1 space probe was leaving the solar system, having completed its primary mission, astronomer Carl Sagan requested that it turn around and take one last photograph of our distant home. NASA complied. In the photo, taken from a record distance of 3.7 billion miles, Earth appears as a tiny, insignificant dot, suspended in a band of sunlight, all but lost against the vastness of space.

In his 1994 book Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, Sagan poetically reflects on the deeper meaning of this powerful image.


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.”


One thought on “Our Planet is a Lonely Speck in the Great Enveloping Cosmic Dark

  1. “We are a way for the cosmos to know itself”. That’s a very interesting take.

    By the inclusion of “cosmotic” stuff (like it or not that’s a word now, and not far from cosmetic) Sagan concludes our right of ascension into it. We can move into it with such knowing granted us in “our stuff” being of “its stuff”.

    On its face it sounds most reasonable but we needn’t tarry long to discover there’s already (if the reasoning is sound) a distinction not subtle at all, we “got the knowing stuff” moving into “a stuff” quite different. We have already set a dichotomy in “our” stuff, “its” stuff. We do indeed have knowledge of possession. The knowledge…of possession of knowledge.

    You may not like the reasoning and perceptions (thinking yourself far wiser) than my 4 year old great grandson, but already he can tell me the difference between himself and a rock.

    And that, of course, needn’t at all be sufficient for you. You are free to tell him about minerals in rock, and minerals within himself being same. Free to expound on all the similarities and seeming sameness, move even to physics and philosophy of occupation of space moving through time. Expound on “laws of matter” and energy to bedazzle him with a fundamental assertion he may not receive (unless he gets bedazzled) “You and the rock are just the same”.

    Now, if that is your assertion, then I am merely speaking to stones. And it would be vain, if that were likewise my assertion, to continue. And again you’d have the right and freedom to both conclude and say of me “that is one very vain stone”. Because I am…continuing.

    And in great part because I do side with my great grandson. We agree to “know something” in the sharing of knowledge. Where this knowing to agreement will part ways is yet to the knowing. I have little doubt it will, at some time, in some way (actually it already has in myriad ways) show itself more plainly. Agreement is fundamental (and likely the definition of it) to any shared knowing, and he already knows on some fundamental level, I am not as fascinated by a Spiderman toy as he is. So, already there is a difference in “his stuff” of knowing, and my own. But, I also think he knows he is not to be, nor expects to be, kicked like a rock from my driveway.

    This “knowing stuff” (of which we are, in noun) and participate (of which we do, verb-ally) we “do” even within ourselves, and outwardly toward one another. We tell ourselves “we know”…and then proceed (sometimes like this, tapping keys) to make known…what we know. And it is surely well beyond both my right and ability to dissuade or persuade any from a conviction they are no more, nor less than a rock, on a rock, flying through space interspersed with various other forms of rock and gasses colliding and caroming senselessly.

    But here then is your conundrum, rock. If there be no sense “in the universe”, no reason “to it”, at all, but you are using your reasoning in attempt to discern my key tapping, and even if only there, only in one, only in YOU, you find reason…then reason exists…in the universe. And you, now, would be the quite vain rock to imagine it only exists there, no?

    How many of you laugh, as I once did, at the apparently benighted goat herders, in all their primitive ignorance, seeming superstition, and grossest of presumptions to record their now laughable knowledge? Man and dust (rock!) are the same…until…something knowing breathes knowing into it. You are a soul, a living one…and being fascinated by stuff, and things (even Spiderman toys) is truly not your chiefest end. Rocks can only yield so much of their being in their telling, but seeking, and finding the source of knowing that breathed His knowing into dust is all you were made to relate to. And through.

    Of course you may disagree, its your perfect right to be different. And in that, we are precisely, the same. And right, and rights, come “from something”.


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