By September 16, 2013 6 Comments

Earth: the Pale Blue Dot

tumblr_lfsrr6ogD41qa7cfvo1_400Way back in 1990 the Voyager 1 spacecraft reached a new record for being farthest away from home. It was just about to leave our solar system and head off into space. It was six billion kilometers away and still going, and it still is.

At that point, upon a request by Carl Sagan (Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space) the ship was told to turn around and take a quick snap of the Earth. The result is the photo on the right. We are the tiny dot on the right, just below halfway down, in the paler band. Really hard to see so clean your monitor first or you may not find it.

When I first saw that image, on the telly, it made me feel suddenly lonely. No longer could I kid myself that Earth is special. From a distance we look like any other planet, just a dot in the darkness.

Now it makes me realise how the aliens first saw us. From wherever they were they picked up this small blue dot in their telescopes. That it was blue was a clue that we have a lot of water. Definitely worth closer inspection, so off they went in their little flying saucers.

Imagine their happiness when they came closer and found not a fully developed race with technology and, more importantly, weapons equal to or better than their own, but a race of creatures only one step above the apes. Their version of anthropologists must have been ecstatic at the potential for observation and even experimentation.

So how come we’re so backward compared to them? Many possibilities but my theory is that in the beginning the Earth, still hot but starting to cool, was hit by another large lump of hot rock. That’s how come we’re on a tilt and wobble. The fragments of that other body eventually formed the Moon. Had that collision not happened then Earth would have cooled sooner and life would have started earlier. We lost millions of years of development.

To quote from Carl Sagan’s book, talking about the photo, he shows his talent with words “The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot…”

He wrote that in 1994, since when there have been 32 conflicts/wars throughout the world, some of which are ongoing. 13 of them involving the US directly (Sagan was American). We must therefore, as a species, be quite mad.

What chance do we have of ever meeting an alien race and getting on with them when we can’t even get on with our human neighbours? Hardly surprising then that our semi-resident aliens amuse themselves with creating crop circles and making things disappear in the Bermuda Triangle while they wait for us to grow up.

Today Voyager 1 is nearly 13 billion kilometers away in the great emptiness of interstellar space, approaching the Oort cloud. When I say approaching, it will take about 300 years to get there. All it has for company is plasma and clouds of ionised gas. Possibly also a couple of aliens wondering what the hell it is.

Is that all? Well, there’s Voyager 2. This is where it gets strange, because Voyager 2 was launched before V1 but V1 was faster so overtook V2. So how come NASA named it Voyager 2 when it was launched before Voyager 1? Voyager 2 was launched in August and Voyager 1 in September, both in 1977. I still don’t get why 2 was called 2 when 1 should have been called 2 because it was second to launch. Are they mad?

Some say they were quite mad because they both carry the famous ‘Golden Disc’. A gold plated LP that contains all sorts of information about us here on Earth. Things like how we’re built and that sort of thing, things that aliens who like to seek out new planets to conquer or colonise would love to receive. They even show how to find us.

On the positive side, Voyager 1 will take thousands of years to get to even the next star system, assuming it doesn’t get hit by an asteroid or something first, so any aliens that near by will already be well aware that we’re here. They’d have picked up our radio signals years ago. So for now we can relax.

Closer to home, and not picked up by the Voyagers, is the alien base on the Moon. I don’t make up this stuff, it’s all there if you do a search. Many people now say there’s actual photographic evidence of a base on the Moon, and it’s not ours. They say that’s why we stopped sending people up there, because the aliens warned us off. Sure, it’s not because sending people to the Moon costs billions of dollars and is very high risk for few rewards. How many Moon rocks could we ever need?

I’ve seen those photos and I’m not convinced. I once saw a photo of a man with a bulldog’s head. Such is photo-editing software today, it can make us believe what’s not real, especially when we really want to believe.

So what Voyager 1 has taught us is that we’re just a small blue dot in an average solar system at the edge of an ordinary galaxy with the usual supermassive black hole at its centre. We are, in short, nothing special. Sort of depressing, really, to find that we’re nothing special after all. Thanks a lot for that, NASA.

John SimsAbout: John Sims (24 Posts)

Former field archaeologist, retired on health grounds. Writer mostly of short stories and magazine features. Born and bred in Wales and still here. After much travelling of the world it's still the best place to be. www.fascinatingfeatures.com


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6 Comments on "Earth: the Pale Blue Dot"

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  1. Geek Chic says:

    We are nothing special? Oh hooey! We are… one blue dot among many blue dots. ;)

    Good article, though.

  2. John Sims John Sims says:

    Thank you for your comments. We are kind of special really, in that we actually know we’re not all that special ;)

  3. Alex Stearns says:

    Wouldn’t that b&w transmission take years to arrive?

  4. Speed of light is ~300,000 km/s (299,792.458 km/s to be exact), so 6 billion kilometers divided by 300,000 kilometers per second equals 20,000 seconds, or about 5½ hours. Unless you’re referring to the data transfer speed (it still wouldn’t be years though).

  5. Alex Stearns says:

    Okay I am not sure what the data transfer rate is so was just curious. Neat stuff though!

  6. John Sims John Sims says:

    The signals sent back to Earth.

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