earth

That Pale Blue Dot

Cassini's Pale Blue Dot

I find it interesting that when we look at the Universe, we learn more about ourselves. What are we, compared to the greatness of the cosmos? We amount to little more than a speck, but here’s the twist: each of us is a universe in ourselves, and together we make up a world. We make up a home.

I took an Astronomy class this semester, because I couldn’t get the class I wanted. The professor’s rating is really low and I didn’t know anything about outer space. I came to class worried, disappointed, and very unhappy; but as I learn more, I began to enjoy it.

Now, the professor often talked about this particular scientific show, Cosmos: a Spacetime Odyssey. I wasn’t interested at first, but as my first test approached, I realized that I needed everything I could get my hands on if I hope to get an A. So I started watching it. I learned new things and became more interested with every week that passed. It has been a life-changing experience.

One particular line called out to me. It went this way: nullius in verba. Take nobody’s word for it. Test ideas by experiments and observations. Build on those ideas that pass the test. Reject the ones that fail. Follow the evidence wherever it leads, and question everything. Accept these terms, and the cosmos is yours.

I ended my class this week, at about the same time that Cosmos aired its last episode. Watching it was a mind-blowing experience. There was this scene of the Voyager spacecraft leaving our Solar System. It turned back at the very last moments before its communication was forever severed from us to take a final look at our Earth.

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.

            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.

I couldn’t agree more. In sixteen mere weeks I have learned more about the Universe, about our own Earth, and about what makes us humans. When we consider the cosmos, we realize how small we are; how truly pathetic and insignificant our dreams, cares, and wishes. When we look at all those other worlds, we discover that there really is nothing like Earth for us; not since the beginning of our existence and not for ages to come. When I look up into the night, at the stars that are more numerous than all the grains of sand on Earth, I wonder why humans are so self-centered, each living in their own illusion that they are most important.

When we look at that pale blue dot, suspended in a sunbeam, let us take a moment to consider our irrelevance and our importance. Let us take a moment to think about all the mysteries we have yet to discover. Let us take a moment to remember that this is our world. We have a responsibility to our home. We owe allegiance to ourselves and to other people. We speak for the Earth. Let us never lose sight of this.