Pale Blue Dot Revisited

Thirty years ago today, February 14, 1990 – NASA spacecraft Voyager 1 looked back from Saturn to capture the Pale Blue Dot.

An image of bluish space, with streaks of sunlight crossing it, and with a single dot - Earth - within one of the sunbeams.

In this image from Voyager 1 – acquired on February 14, 1990, from a distance slightly past the orbit of Saturn – Planet Earth is visible as a bright speck within the sunbeam, just right of center. Earth appears softly blue. It occupies less than a single pixel in this image and thus is not fully resolved. Image via NASA.

As Voyager 1 approached Saturn, mission control planned to conserve power by shutting down imaging cameras. Astronomer Carl Sagan had an idea – before shutdown look back at planet Earth. Six billion kilometers across the cosmos Voyager 1 immortalized the Pale Blue Dot.

Today, 30th anniversary of the Pale Blue Dot

On this 30th anniversary, every last one of us should take a moment to ponder Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot –

“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.” – Carl Sagan

Fermi Paradox

In 1950 physicist Enrico Fermi posed a question pointing to the contradiction of probability for extra-terrestrial civilizations and the lack of contact with such civilizations. His pondering is known as the “Fermi Paradox”. In 1961, Frank Drake tried to come up with the statistical answer using a mathematic equation. Drake assigned values for rate of star formation in the galaxy, fraction of those stars with planets, fraction of those that would develop life, of those – the fraction with intelligent life, fraction of intelligent life willing and able to communicate, and expected lifetime of intelligent civilizations.

It doesn’t take a physicist to figure out flaws in Drake’s formula; how can anyone determine the lifetime of any given civilization or possibly understand definitions of cosmic life. We’ve only glimpsed at our solar system, haven’t set foot on the moon in decades, Voyager 1 has taken 36 years to travel 19 billion Km. give or take a few million – and is still about 11 billion Kms. from our sun. There are billions upon billions of stars in the universe; almost incomprehensible, despite attempts such as “picture all the grains of sand in the world – remove one – that’s our sun”.

Science, religion and philosophy toss the paradox around – all searching for a definitive “solution”. Science equates likelihood of an “encounter” to a fly travelling from one end of a football field to the other – a person reaching up and grasping at the air – there’s a chance they could grab the fly. Religion, steadfast and unwavering that no proof of extra-terrestrial life “proves”  God put us here. (Apparently a lot of Christians missed a memo from the Vatican that extra-terrestrial life is possible as there is no limit to God’s power)

I’ll close by pondering how lovely it would be if we could simply focus on discovery and knowledge. Imagine understanding dark matter, black holes or the fourth dimension. Debating Fermi’s Paradox is a worthy diversion; an entertaining way to stretch your mind. Buckling down to the business of pure science will change lives – forget “ancient aliens”, I want parallel dimensions.

Captain Space Chicken; Reporting for Duty

On Sept. 5 California high school students launched a rubber chicken dubbed Camilla into space. It was a trial run in honour of the 35th anniversary of Voyager 1. Camilla wore headphones to draw attention to the Golden iPod app they plan to attach to a satellite they are building. The app will be on board this satellite, with plans for a 2013 launch. Voyager 1 was equipped with a ‘Golden Record’, designed to send information into the universe. The Golden iPod will do the same thing.


Photo taken from