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A lonely pixel: Iconic ‘Pale Blue Dot’ image turns 25

by Brandon Russell | February 14, 2015February 14, 2015 11:00 am PDT

pale-blue-dot-voyager-earth-nasa

Exactly 25 years ago to the day, NASA’s spectacular Voyager 1 spacecraft took a photo for the ages: Pale Blue Dot. The image you see above was snapped by the space probe on Feb. 14, 1990, from about 3.7 billion miles away from Earth. That’s an unfathomable distance, and, as it turns out, a beautiful way to put our existence into perspective. You might feel yourself special, but cool your ego: Earth is just a tiny spec in the vastness of space.

Pale Blue Dot was part of a larger family portrait captured by Voyager, which included Neptune, Uranus, Jupiter, Earth and Venus. Others, like Mars, Mercury and dwarf planet Pluto weren’t captured due to the space craft’s unique vantage point at the time, which was just out of Neptune’s reach. It’s probably the second most famous photograph of Earth, second only to Earthrise, which was taken by astronaut William Anders in 1968.

Aside from the incredible scale the image displays, it was made even more famous by the great Carl Sagan, who was a member of the Voyager team at the time. I won’t even attempt to describe his words on the image; instead, you can refer to this moving video for the biggest impact. An excerpt from Sagan’s speec is below.

Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. 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, ever here 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.

At the time the picture was taken, Voyager 1 was 40 astronomical units from the sun; today, Voyager 1 is at an estimated distance of 130 astronomical units, making it the farthest human-made object from Earth, NASA said in a press release. It’s so far away that it reached Interstellar space back in 2012, and somehow still continues to ping data back to Earth. NASA said that if Voyager 1 managed to snap a picture of Earth at the distance it’s at today, the planet would appear about 10 times dimmer.

Barely perceptible. That’s where we are. You and me and everyone you know.

“The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic area,” Sagan said of the image. “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.”

Voyager

Brandon Russell

Brandon Russell enjoys writing about technology and entertainment. When he's not watching Back to the Future, you can find him on a hike or watching...

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