consider again
that dt

by Ryan Pavlick

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22 Feb 2015

Consider again that dot

Welcome to my new blog. The name comes from Carl Sagan’s reflections on a photograph of the Earth taken by the Voyager I spaceprobe far from home in the chilly reaches of our solar system, beyond the orbit of Pluto.

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

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.

-Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, 1997 reprint, pp. xv–xvi

I read this passage for the first time some 15 years ago. The words have stuck with me ever since.

I owe a lot to Carl Sagan; his books and particularly his television series, Cosmos, were inspirations along my path to my current career in science.

Most recently, that path has led me to my current position at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the birthplace of the Voyagers. At JPL, I work on a number of things, but they all in someway relate to mapping and understanding how humanity is affecting Earth’s biosphere.

My work is a small piece of an immense but, in my opinion, solvable puzzle of how we will continue to survive and coexist on the pale blue dot.

I don’t have grand plans for this blog. At the least, it will serve as a home for the links in the sidebar to the left. Beyond that, let’s see.