The Day the Earth Smiled at Saturn
On 19 July 2013, my favorite space mission, Cassini, turned its cameras and took a picture of the Earth, of us, of all of us fitting us in a pixel. This has happened before a couple of times, but this is the first time we, Earth people, knew in advance that this could happen, that our picture would be taken from one and a half billion km away, and that between 23:27 and 23:42 this past Friday, some of us were outside smiling and waving at Saturn. This “interplanetary photo op” worked well I hear, as people gathered among colleagues, friends or family and had their picture taken by one of the most sophisticated cameramen out there at the moment.
And as Carl Sagan, a mentor I very much miss, said:
“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.”
—Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, 1997 reprint, pp. xv–xvi
In the future, there should also be another such photo op by the Messenger mission around Mercury…
Photos of the Earth and the moon from Saturn
NASA began posting the raw images of Earth as seen by the Cassini spacecraft at Saturn on July 20. On Friday, the Cassini spacecraft, Saturn and the sun were aligned so that Cassini could capture Earth’s picture from distant space. Cassini got the moon, too!
Links to other websites:
Paris:‘I just smiled in the darkness of the Paris night thinking of you all! Thinking of these rare moments when at last, we, human beings, breathe in the consciousness of our universality.’
Unknown:‘I had my Arms out in a big Y … telling the universe I loved it, and glad I am a part of it. Felt Fantastic. Nice to be a part of something bigger than myself.’
Madrid:‘Felt very connected for we are all the same Human family.’
Lake Ontario: ‘The thought that a camera was taking pictures from so very far away IS just incredible. We may not be unique… we may be transient… we may be only flying along on a dust mote. But darn it, for 15 minutes we were there, we were aware, and we smiled.’
Unknown:‘Thanks.It was a wonderful way to bring the world together.’
Unknown:‘One awesome moment in history and I am soooo chuffed to have been a part of it. Gave me goosebumps it did, the thought of everyone taking part.’
Malaysia: ‘I got up specially at 5.27 am to give a wave, just to say ‘I was there!’ Luckily none of the locals saw me!’
South England: ‘At the appointed time, I raised a glass of fine red wine, and [my daughter] a glass of fizzy pop. We said ‘cheers’ to Saturn, To Cassini, to each other. Then smiled, laughed, waved and cheered and took photos of ourselves. Both beaming! It was perfect.’
Germany: ‘I tock a moment to marvel over the acomplichments of ouer spiecis, how far we have come, and how far we can go if we just work together :)’
British Columbia: ‘It was great feeling … the same “oneness” as thousands of others all around the globe smiled in sync.’
US Eastern Seaboard: ‘What a feeling of connection and oneness with the miracle that is life on Earth. This experience was beyond meaningful. It was transcendent. What a beautiful thing.’
Unknown:‘I usually smile a lot, but today it felt even better!And thinking there is really something flying around Saturn taking pics from earth is really overwhelming! Thanks a lot! ‘