Pale blue dot: a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam

April’s letter had an astronomy theme because April plays host to international astronomy day (29th). There are so many letters I could write with an astronomy theme. I don’t think this will be the last cosmic letter I send to my pen pals this year. Choosing what to send this time was easy as I couldn’t allow international astronomy day go by without sharing the intergalactic wonder that is Carl Sagan.

About five years ago, my boss introduced me to Carl Sagan because Sagan is the person who first ignited his interest in science. Sagan had an incredibly popular television series in the 1980s called Cosmos where he voyaged through nearly fifteen billion years of cosmic evolution covering everything from the origins of life to modern science. I bought the DVD box set for myself my boyfriend as one of his birthday presents and I instantly fell in love with it. You can buy the DVD series here on amazon.  It’s mesmerising!

andromeda-galaxy-755442_960_720Sagan had a gift for language and conveying complex ideas to the masses. The internet is jam packed full of his witty and thought-provoking quotes such as “If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe” and “We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology”.

My favourite quote of his has to be a passage he wrote in his book “Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space”. The passage accompanies a photo taken from the Voyager 1 Spacecraft as it teetered on the edge of our solar system. The astronauts on board took a photo of planet Earth and the image was, well, quite grainy and unspectacular really as far as photos of the Earth go. In fact, if you weren’t told that you were looking at planet Earth you would never know what you were looking at. The pixelated black background is interrupted by artefact streaks from the sun’s rays. If you look closely you will see that one of the pixels are slightly larger and paler than the others… this is planet Earth.  It is only when this image is paired with Sagan’s words that it becomes so poignant and breathtaking that you can’t help but feel a little sad about the way we humans tend to treat each other and the planet. Here is an excerpt:

“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 civilisation, 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.”

Isn’t that powerful?!

Sagan then goes on to stress the importance of us treating our planet Earth, the only home we’ve ever known, and others more kindly. It was written over 25 years ago yet is still as applicable today as it was back then.

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I printed the Pale Blue Dot passage on top of a simple… pale blue dot. I drew the dot in Adobe Sketch. I love this app for doodling and the best part is that you can download and use a simple version of it for free from here. My reasoning behind a plain and simple illustration was that I didn’t want anything to distract the readers from Sagan’s message. The prints looked really quite sweet when they were printed out. In my letter I included a brief summary of the information I have written above (mainly about who Carl Sagan is and how I was introduced to his awesomeness). Letter writing is as easy as that. Of course, you can use this as inspiration and recycle this content to send to your friends.

I enclosed each print to my friends in the hope that they will share it with their friends and we can perhaps begin to treat each other and the planet we inhabit a little more kindly. Those who have let me know that they have received it so far have loved it and one even said that she feels that the Pale Blue Dot passage is one she should read everyday.

Let me know in the comments below or via social media whether you send the Pale Blue Dot to any of your friends.

I’ve shared one of the many people who inspire me. Who has inspired you?

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