Carl Sagan and his Cool Reflections

Pale Blue Dot WidePale Blue Dot Close

The photo above was taken by Voyager 1 in 1990 as it sailed away from Earth, more than 4 billion miles in the distance. Having completed its primary mission, Voyager at that time was on its way out of the Solar System, on a trajectory of approximately 32 degrees above the plane of the Solar System. Ground Control issued a command that directed the distant space craft to turn around and, looking back, take photos of each of the planets it had visited. From Voyager’s vast distance, the Earth was captured as a infinitesimal point of light (between the two white tick marks in the image above), actually smaller than a single pixel of the photo. The image was taken with a narrow angle camera lens, with the Sun quite close to the field of view. Quite by accident, the Earth was captured in one of the scattered light rays caused by taking the image at an angle so close to the Sun. Dr. Sagan was quite moved by this image of our tiny world. Here is an enlargement of the area around our Pale Blue Dot and an excerpt from the late Dr. Sagan’s talk:


Pale Blue Dot

-by Carl Sagan – January 25th 2010

“The spacecraft was a long way from home.

I thought it would be a good idea, just after Saturn, to have them take one last glance homeward. From Saturn, the Earth would appear too small for Voyager to make out any detail. Our planet would be just a point of light, a lonely pixel hardly distinguishable from the other points of light Voyager would see: nearby planets, far off suns. But precisely because of the obscurity of our world thus revealed, such a picture might be worth having.

So, here they are: a mosaic of squares laid down on top of the planets in a background smattering of more distant stars. Because of the reflection of sunlight off the spacecraft, the Earth seems to be sitting in a beam of light, as if there were some special significance to this small world; but it’s just an accident of geometry and optics. There is no sign of humans in this picture: not our reworking of the Earth’s surface; not our machines; not ourselves. From this vantage point, our obsession with nationalisms is nowhere in evidence. We are too small. On the scale of worlds, humans are inconsequential: a thin film of life on an obscure and solitary lump of rock and metal.

Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you’ve ever heard of, every human being who ever was lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings; thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines; every hunter and forager; every hero and coward; every creator and destroyer of civilizations; 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 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. 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.”



I came across an old collection of mine from Carl Sagan and this film excerpt below in the hyperlink is from his Cosmos series. It pretty much encapsulates the very drift of the conceptual journey consuming my thoughts of late. The Cosmos series is a timeless, historical expression of the scientific outlook on the origin of life, the human species and the universal laws that eternally surround us. Carl Sagan’s humble and nonchalant demeanor is a very pleasant experience to ponder the perplexities of a life feeling the weight of its egocentric fixation on privilege, grandeur and selfhood…….In fact everything written for the public by Carl Sagan is worthy  of any person’s interest…

Carl Sagan on God – Science for Today


A poster-size image of the beautiful barred spiral galaxy NGC 13


Ridley Scott’s Universe – fact or fiction?


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Ridley Scott is an accomplished producer and director. Having watched the sequel to his cult classic of 1982 – Blade Runner – just recently, I felt compelled to articulate some of my reactions to some of his work over the years. Who can forget the dysfunctional fear of extraterrestrial life generated through the film Alien in 1979 and the thought-provoking dystopia of the film Blade Runner in 1982 ? The driving forces underpinning both of these films originate in Ridley Scott’s existential dilemma with life itself. The growing friction that Ridley experiences with life and purpose that grind the realities of form and function, is a personal attempt to grapple with the essential question of what the hell this thing we call life is all about. In fact for Ridley Scott, life itself is a crime thriller without closure – an untenable realisation in anybody’s discernment.

In the film Prometheus the stage is set to distinguish the concept of a benevolent hope  in nature’s designs with the contrast of brute survival coping in a universe of many life forms devoid of moral imperatives. In fact most of the motivational momentum in Ridley Scott’s films attempt to clarify the idea that survival is the be all and end all of life itself and that death is the necessary process towards evolutionary mastery of knowledge – a knowledge enabled to temporarily withstand the onslaught of a meaningless existence whose only purpose is survival of the species. Nature’s lack of propriety is the  recurring motif in nearly all of Ridley Scott’s films.

The film Blade Runner ignited the extended metaphor to deal with life and death by constructing a futuristic analogy through the dystopia of an industrialised and commercialised landscape mirroring the lives of city dwellers on this planet of ours.  Replicants became aware of their short life span and demanded to seek out their creator to force a change in their molecular structure to enable a longer life span to experience the joys they discovered in their new found freedoms escaping from their slave labour, mining for the Tyrell Corporation. The leader of the Replicants,  Roy Batty cleverly sets the stage to meet his maker, Dr Eldon Tyrrell and makes some strong demands seeking longevity in life, only to be sadly informed by the doctor that his internal structure is impossible to reverse or alter and that the sacrifice for Roy’s outstanding engineering marvel is unfortunately a short four year life span. The anger in Roy upon discovering this no-win scenario is played out in the violent metaphor where Roy exacts his revenge on his maker by squeezing Tyrell’s  eye balls until they bleed denying him the perceptions of the life he has created.

This situation I think illuminates Ridley Scott’s existential dilemma as well as his anger with the essential nature of life itself. In many of his films there exists a lingering trail of injustices and grievances borne out of the conundrum of a vast and lonely universe whose only reason to exist is to confound the rational mind.

Maybe this conundrum is a mirror to our sense of privilege and that life was never meant to echo human belief but to celebrate the occasion while it lasts…….