Pale Blue Dot

by endlesspsych

By Keir Liddle

On February 14th 1990, Voyager had completed it’s primary mission to study the Jovian, Saturnian systems and outer solar system. NASA ordered the probe to turn its attention to the planets of the solar system.

The photograph on the left is an image of Earth taken at some point between February the 14th and June 6th 1990. It can be seen as a pale blue dot towards the middle of the brown band.

The picture was taken using a narrow-angle camera at 32° above the ecliptic, created using blue, green, and violet filters. Narrow-angle cameras, as opposed to wide-angle cameras, are equipped to photograph specific details in an area of interest. The brown band surrounding Earth is an artifact of sunlight scattering in the camera’s optics, resulting from the small angle between the Earth and the Sun. Earth takes up less than a single pixel—NASA says “only 0.12 pixel in size in the image.

According to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory HORIZONS software system, the distances between Voyager and the Earth during this time were as follows:

Distance of the Voyager 1 Spacecraft from Earth
Unit of Measurement    February 14, 1990 June 9, 1990
Astronomical Units    40.4722269111071      40.6835761263791
Kilometres    6,054,558,968      6,086,176,360
Miles    3,762,136,324      3,781,782,502

Pale Blue Dot is perhaps most famously known as the title of a book by Carl Sagan in which he wrote the following:

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of particular interest.
But for us, it’s different. 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 “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.

Voyager is now the furthest man-made object away from Earth. In December of 2010 it was 17.4 billion kilometers (10.8 billion miles) away from the sun and on the cusp of leaving the solar system, and it is currently exploring the space beyond our solar system. 

When you think about it, this is more than just a little bit awe inspiring. 

More images of Earth from space can be found here.