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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Pale Blue Dot Revisited

Earth is barely visible as
a pale blue dot in the  red
band on the right.
I love Carl Sagan. He was as much a poet as he was an astronomer.  Back in 1994, he published a book  entitled, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. These are the opening words to his book:












The spacecraft was a long way from home, beyond the orbit of the outermost planet and high above the ecliptic plane - which is an imaginary flat surface that we can think of as something like a racetrack in which the orbits of the planets are mainly confined. The ship was speeding away from the sun at 40,000 miles per hour. But in early February 1990, it was overtaken by an urgent message from Earth. 

Obediently, it turned its cameras back toward the now-distant planets. Slewing its scan platform from one spot in the sky to another, it snapped 60 pictures and stored them in digital form on its tape recorder.  Then slowly, in March, April, and May,  it radioed the data back to earth. Each image was composed of 640,000 individual picture elements ("pixels"), like the dots in a newspaper wirephoto or a pointillist painting.  The spacecraft was 3.7 billion miles away from Earth, so far away that it took each pixel 5 1/2 hours, traveling at the speed of light, to reach us. 


What the pictures showed was the Earth - just a pale blue dot in the black of the universe.  Sagan's words have become the inspiration for many, including artists and filmmakers.  I highlighted one such artist/filmmaker in an early post on the Symphony of Science. Recently, I came across another video on Vimeo by Michael Marantz using Sagan's words. Sagan himself provides the narration. Marantz shot the time-lapse images and composed and performed the music. I thought it might be worth sharing here. In these troubled and troubling times, a little perspective is useful.  Hope you enjoy.


EARTH: The Pale Blue Dot from Michael Marantz on Vimeo.

Kudos to one of my favorite sites, Open Culture, for suggesting the idea for this blog.