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Jul. 26, 2013

Carl Sagan Reflects on the Pale Blue Dot

by Julie Leibach

Click to enlarge images
Last week, NASA released an image (above) that reminds us of our humble existence: In the foreground, Saturn’s rings blaze across the frame, while a pinprick Earth glows blue in a cosmic abyss, nearly 900 million miles away.
 
The image—which combines pictures taken by the Cassini spacecraft that used red, green, and blue spectral filters—is only the third portrait of Earth ever captured from the outer solar system (which means, beyond the asteroid belt). Cassini also snagged the second one, visible in this panorama of Saturn (a composite of 165 shots). Earth is a speck to the left, above the planet's brighter main rings.
 
Earth's first portrait surfaced more than 20 years ago, courtesy of Voyager 1. In that historical shot from 1990, Earth figures as a “pale blue dot,” barely perceptible against a ray of scattering light (see below). In 1994, Carl Sagan, an experimenter for the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft, chatted with SciFri about first seeing that dot. “I thought, that’s us,” he said. “That’s our world. That’s all of us—everybody you know, everybody you love, everybody you ever heard of lived out their lives there, on a mote of dust in a sunbeam.” Listen to the conversation in the podcast below.

The scene Sagan describes:
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About Julie Leibach

Julie is the managing editor of ScienceFriday.com. She is a huge fan of sleep and chocolate. Follow her @julieleibach.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

Science Friday® is produced by the Science Friday Initiative, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Science Friday® and SciFri® are registered service marks of Science Friday, Inc. Site design by Pentagram; engineering by Mediapolis.

 

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