Penn State

Darren M. Williams - Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Penn State Erie, The Behrend College

Book Title: Pale Blue Dot

Author: Carl Sagan

Book Description:

In 1989, the Voyager 1 spacecraft - then out beyond the orbits of Neptune and Pluto - was instructed
to turn towards the Sun and take a picture of each of the planets in the Solar System including the Earth. The experiment was motivated by the late astronomer Carl Sagan (1934-1996), author of the bestselling books Dragons of Eden, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, Cosmos, Pale Blue Dot, and many others, who also helped found the premier planetary science journal Icarus and the space-advocacy group known as the Planetary Society. Sagan captivated audiences worldwide through regular appearances on the NBC Tonight Show and in his award-winning 13-episode Cosmos series appearing on PBS in 1980. He was also a powerfully-effective spokesperson for science, scientific literacy, and use of technology for human welfare and world peace. His speech and writing were uplifting and contagious and helped inspire and launch the careers of an entire generation of astronomers. I am a member of the "Sagan generation". My research on the habitability of planets was inspired by Sagan who focused his professional attention on origin-of-life scenarios on the Earth, Venus, Mars, and moons of the outer Solar System. Pale Blue Dot was one of Sagan's final books in which he attempted to unify the triumphs and fallacies of all human causes through a single remarkable image captured by the Voyager space probe from the edge of the Solar System in 1989 - an image of a "pale, blue dot", the Earth, described by Sagan as a "mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam."

From Pale Blue Dot; Random House; 1994

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.

But for us, it's different. 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. C. Sagan.


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