The Voyager 1 spacecraft is humankind’s farthest flung object in the cosmos. Aboard the Titan-Centaur rocket, Voyager 1 was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida on September 5, 1977. Its mission: to extend NASA’s, and humankind’s, exploration of our solar system beyond the outer planets. Earlier this year, Voyager 1 ventured beyond the solar system, more than 138 AUs (Astronomical Unit is a measurement of distance from the Earth to the Sun), or 12.8 billion miles. However, one of the most profound messages that was ever sent from the spacecraft was in the form of an image. An image of us.
On Valentine’s Day, 1990, astronomer Carl Sagan had a request for the operators of Voyager 1. Due to the vast distance between Earth and Voyager 1, the attempt to maneuver the probe was risky. The goal? To take Earth’s portrait from 3.8 billion miles away. It worked. After the images that comprise the Earth were completed, the camera of Voyager 1 was turned off forever. We were the subject of the last photo ever taken from what is now the most distant human made object in space.
I encourage you to find an image of what is now called The Pale Blue Dot. Earth was illuminated by a ray of sunlight whose particles, called photons, have since travelled 40 lightyears from when the image was taken. From that distant vantage point, humanity could be found in a light blue pixel, surrounded by the great dark of space. The immensity of space and time are beyond adequate description.
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Voyager 1, I will end with a quotation by the late Carl Sagan, a true pioneer in astronomy.
It is my hope that we can all see each other as neighbors, surviving and succeeding together by working with one another. No matter what the distance is between us in either time or space, if we work side by side, we will overcome any obstacle.
“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 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.
Out 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.”
~Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994
Voyager 1 Information: https://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/mission/interstellar-mission/