“…to give [them] a sense of Historical Perspective… he told them about the Earth Woman. He made them imagine that the earth–four thousand six hundred million years old–was a forty-six-year-old woman… It had taken the whole of the Earth Woman’s life for the earth to become what it was. For the oceans to part. For the mountains to rise. The Earth Woman was eleven years old… when the first single-celled organisms appeared. The first animals, creatures like worms and jelly fish, appeared only when she was forty. She was over forty-five–just eight months ago–when dinosaurs roamed the earth… It was an awe-inspiring and humbling thought… that the whole of contemporary history, the World Wards, the Ward of Dreams, the Man on the Moon, science, literature, philosophy, the pursuit of knowledge–was no more than a blink of the Earth Woman’s eye.”
~ excerpt from The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy
I was never very good at physics in school, but the idea of space has always fascinated me. I am ever grateful for the explanations provided by science whizzes, those clever souls who kindly extrapolate the jumble of mathematical code to present complex data in layman’s terms.
Here are the simple facts of a dizzyingly complex journey. A 722-kilo space probe currently travelling at 17 kms a second… over 35 years that’s a cumulative 11 billion miles travelled: Voyager I is about to leave the Solar System.
Scientists won’t know the exact moment until after the fact, because little Voyager is the farthest a man-made object has ever travelled.
Put another way: Voyager is so far from Earth that its messages travelling at the speed of light take more than 16 hours to reach us.
As if this weren’t mind boggling enough, I learned of something else. I had seen the image of the Pale Blue Dot before, but didn’t know much of its story.
Back in 1989, astrophysicist Carl Sagan begged Edward Stone, chief scientist for the Voyager mission, to take the photo whilst there was still the opportunity. And so, on February 14th 1990, about a third of the way through its journey to date, NASA commanded Voyager’s cameras to turn around and take a final image of the Earth before switching them off to conserve power and memory — whose capacity is an incredibly small capacity of about 8,000 words!
The photo itself is unimpressive at first glance. A fuzzy palette of muted colours. But look closely, and you will see a tiny speck, just 0.12 pixels across. It’s Earth, our home, seen from 4 billion miles away.
It is here that I would encourage you to watch (and listen to) the following clip:
Look again at 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 “supreme leader,” every “superstar,” 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 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. 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. 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. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we live and stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and a character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. It underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the only home we’ve ever known, the pale blue dot.
~ excerpt from The Pale Blue Dot by Carl Sagan
I am in awe of that most genius of inventions, the wheel, so it is hard for me explain how I felt when I revisited the Voyager journey. I felt–and still feel–humbled. How insignificant I am, how unimportant my struggles are. Yet I was empowered with the simple reminder that every moment matters, that all we have is now. How important it is to be kind, to take pleasure in things.
Here’s a musical tribute to all journeys into the unknown.
1. The Rah Band // Clouds Across the Moon
2. Cocteau Twins // Little Spacey
3. Cal Tjader // East of the Sun (And West of the Moon)
4. Tipsy // Space Golf
5. Diskjokke // Flott Flyt
6. Nicola Conte // Wanin’ Moon
7. Seu Jorge // Starman
8. Ice Core Scientist // Pale Blue Dot
9. Blitzen Trapper // Astronaut
10. Beastie Boys // Intergalactic (Aydio Remix)
11. Janelle Monáe // Violet Stars Happy Hunting
12. 20th Century Steel Band // Heaven and Hell is On Earth
13. Jamiroquai // When You Gonna Learn (Digeridoo)
14. Bole 2 Harlem // Home
15. DJ Shadow // What Doe Your Soul Look Like, Part I (Blue Sky Revisited Mix)
16. Depeche Mode // Enjoy the Silence (Sasha & John Digweed Mix)
17. Tipsy // Nude on the Moon
18. Orbital // Impact (The Earth is Burning)