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Pale Blue Dot

February 14, 2010

Today is the 20th anniversary of the creation of the “Pale Blue Dot” image, taken by the Voyager 1 space probe on February 14, 1990.

The Pale Blue Dot of Earth, visible halfway down the tan light beam on the right, just a few pixels wide.

It shows the Earth from 3.7 billion miles (6 billion kilometers) away, when Voyager 1 was in the farmost reaches of solar system beyond Pluto. If you look closely you can just see the Earth, a few light blue pixels about halfway down the tan streak on the right.

Yep, that’s us. Everything we have ever known in the history of mankind, easily confused with a speck of dust on the monitor.

Astronomer and science populist Carl Sagan asked NASA to take this image at the start of the Voyager missions in 1977. Officials at NASA refused at first; they said that turning Voyager’s sensitive cameras back toward the inner solar system could cause them to be fried by the sun. But by 1990 Voyager was done with its mission of collecting images of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune and it was unclear how much longer it would continue to communicate with Earth. So NASA agreed to take an image of Earth as part of a 60 image panoramic portrait of the solar system. Carl Sagan later wrote down his thoughts on the image in his book, Pale Blue Dot. An excerpt of the book is available on Wikipedia.

Although the image has little scientific value, it has great emotional significance. If there is intelligent life outside our world, this is how they see us. All of us, as different as we think we are, together on a teeny speck of dust floating in empty space.

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