Inspiration from a ‘Pale Blue Dot’

This week’s post is going to be super short but I had to share this with you. I came across a photo (via Astronomy Ireland) yesterday and it really opened my eyes to our place in the vast expanse of the solar system. The photo entitled ‘Pale Blue Dot’ was taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft (above) in 1990 from a whopping distance of about 6 billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles) from Earth.

Pale Blue Dot (see Earth as a pale blue pixel in middle of red band on right) – Click to Enlarge

Voyager 1 and 2 were launched in 1977 on a mission of exploration. Since their launch, they have sent back data for scientists to analyse as well as stunning images of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. An American astronomer, Carl Sagan, proposed that as Voyager 1 passed Saturn, it should turn back towards Earth and take a photo of home. Over the past 22 years, this photo has provided inspiration and perspective to people around the world.

At 18 billion kilometers (11 billion miles) from the sun, Voyager 1 is now in the outermost layer of the bubble around our solar system. It is predicted to enter the space between the stars (interstellar space) in the near future. This will be an exciting time for the 45-year-old mission.

As a newcomer to astronomy, seeing earth as a fraction of a dot had a huge impact on me. When I looked at Mars or Saturn through my husband’s telescope, I found it hard to visualise them as planets. Thinking about the possibility of other life and Earth-like planets sometimes seemed too distant to be a reality. Seeing Earth in this light made me truly comprehend for the first time the potential of the universe and how one tiny dot could be so significant!

See video below with commentary by Carl Sagan:

Images: http://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/