Carl Sagan

The other day someone asked me “who is your favourite famous person?”, to which I instantly replied:  Carl Sagan.

A galaxy is composed of gas and dust and stars—billions upon billions of stars.
“We are a way for the Cosmos to know itself.”

It’s funny that I was able to answer that question so quickly, considering I struggle with questions such as “What is your favourite colour?”

However, Carl Sagan is just one of those people who had a great impact on me from an early age.

I remember coming home from school and “Cosmos” was on TV.  I remember wondering if I was watching science fiction or science fact as Carl was dressed in some kind of brown robe and flying a strange spacecraft around the galaxy.

By the end of the episode I was hooked, and made a concerted effort to watch every episode possible.  I think my favourite at the time was the one where the time dilation effect is demonstrated by a young boy on a motor scooter.  I recall that I found it upsetting that when he returned to the park bench where he left his brother, his brother was an old man, but still waiting for him.

I love Carl Sagan.

When I listen to Carl Sagan speak, I feel as though I understand how others are moved by Shakespeare.

So this brings me to The Pale Blue Dot…

The Pale Blue Dot refers to a photograph of planet Earth taken in 1990 by the Voyager 1 spacecraft from a record distance of about 6 billion kilometres from Earth.

In his book Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, Carl Sagan related his thoughts on the photograph, and this is one of my favourite quotes by anyone, ever:

“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.”

Nothing lasts forever, and even stars die.

Carl Sagan (1934-1996), R.I.P.

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