Tiny dot Earth, will you be my Valentine?
That tiny little dot a little more than halfway down the brown band on the right-hand-side is Earth. Many of you know the photo was taken by Voyager on February 14, 1990 and that the decision to take this photo was a controversial one. To photograph Earth, the camera would have to turn back towards the Sun, which could potentially have burned out the camera lens. But NASA decided to take the risk and I’m sure glad they did.
Apparently when this and other photos taken by Voyager were displayed on a giant wall at JPL, the exhibit manager had to continually replace the photo of Earth. People would come to look at the tiny dot of their home planet then feel compelled to TOUCH IT. Okay, that sends me into a logic loop from which there may be no escape. Let’s walk through it together (those prone to vertigo should stop reading).
A person (we’ll call her Patti) would see the image of her planet from this previously unseen perspective and marvel at how small something she understood her whole life to be enormous, was so incredibly tiny. One-twelfth-of-a-pixel-tiny. So Patti struggles to reconcile these two ideas of big and small but just really has no context in which to compare them. Wait, maybe this: she remembers visiting the Sphinx in Egypt and being surprised at how small it was compared to the giant stone cat-beast she imagined. That her parents had a van in the ‘70’s that was about the same size. She was perplexed at how her perception was so off. Okay, that comparison didn’t help. Patti considers it from another angle. To get the picture, Voyager traveled 3,762,136,324.748 miles away from here and just getting that far is baffling. Patti wonders if this is what God sees when he looks at Earth. If Patti can see what God sees, does that make her God, too? Of course she’s not really seeing the actual view first hand, she’s looking at some ink and paper and other chemicals that create an image to represent that view because Patti couldn’t even remember her cell phone charger when she went to Egypt, much less pack for a trip that is 3,762,136,324.748 miles.
Regardless, THAT DOT is Earth. Patti whimpers aloud, “My home is a dot. My life is a blip on that dot. Oh, God-that-is-not-me, am I that insignificant?”
Before Patti has a panic attack, she approaches the photo. She feels she must conquer it, master it. Somehow she will feel significant, Damn it. Instead of kneeling down and touching the real, solid, big Earth beneath her feet, she reaches out her index finger and touches the tiny dot Earth in the photo. So now we have a woman who’s touching a symbolic representation of the planet she is standing on to help her feel the tiniest bit in control of a situation which, much to her dismay, is entirely out of control because it goes against what her ego has been telling her all her life. But then a strange thing happened. She felt calm. She felt at peace. She felt okay because somehow, by touching the tiny earth, the concept of its smallness in a vast universe was now in her physical and mental grasp.
Well, that’s as close to understanding it as I think I’m going to get. Logic loop put to rest for now.
Carl Sagan was an advocate of taking this photo when NASA was himming and hawing. And here is part of what he wrote about the photo:
“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.
Our 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.”
That is why this February 14th, planet Earth, both giant and nano, will be my Valentine. I ♥ Earth. Now it better take me out for sushi.