Thursday, September 6, 2007

Postings from the Pale Blue Dot.

Every time I see an image of the Earth from space - what Carl Sagan called the "Pale Blue Dot" - I want to cry.

I remember Al Gore surprising me with an image at the end of "An Inconvenient Truth." At the end of that moving movie was the most moving image that a human could look at, besides the actual face of god. It was the Earth, the first picture of it ever taken from space, and it never fails to impress me.

Wired has an image gallery from the Voyager spacecraft planetary visits, and I fought back tears again on seeing the above image - the first ever taken of the Earth and our Moon together in space.

Of course they include a picture of Dr. Sagan, the brains behind the whole operation. Sagan has been a hero of mine since childhood, and it's because of projects like Voyager that help me revere his memory.

There's something about seeing an image of the Earth from space that makes you feel humble. In a vast and unforgiving universe, we are mites in the carpet. You can't see national borders, or political parties, or anything built by human hands - besides the Great Wall of China - from space. Not one shred of evidence of our existence can be seen from orbit, and yet we think our everyday goings-on matter so much.

From our perspective they do, because we're stuck here on terra firma. We know people and we go places and we accomplish goals that have impact on the world, however small it is, around us.

But from up there, we're nothing.

And Dr. Sagan helped me to feel okay about that. There's comfort in knowing that, in all the universe, we've fought tooth and literal nail to get where we are - to inhabit a tiny ball of oxygen, nitrogen, and hydrogen and make it our own.

Sometimes I imagine what it would've been like, on Voyager 1 and 2, on the day Jupiter loomed large enough to make out its many moons and cloud bands. I imagine what it was like when those spacecrafts zipped by Neptune - its clouds a bright, electric blue - and the other outer planets that dwarf our own. On its way out of the solar system, into that interplanetary limbo where not much at all exists, Voyager took a shot of Earth from way out - and it makes me fall in love with Earth every time.

I love the planet because I'm biased, but also because it has its own beauty and splendor, as does each of the planets in our neighborhood. And I love it because it's home, and when you step foot on it you can see so many wonderful things.

The cosmos is hard to fathom because our brains can't well handle the idea of infinity. And if the universe isn't infinite in size, it might as well be. It's pretty damn big.

And here we sit, on our pale blue dot, floating around in space, doing our own thing.

The Voyager mission showed worlds outside of our own, and how spectacular they were. It's only our own world, however, that tears me up - every damn time, it gets me.

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