Carl Sagan: One Scientist, One Imagination, One Dot

Every great accomplishment begins with an act of the imagination, so too the Pale Blue Dot. Today is its 25th anniversary.

The Pale Blue Dot, part of Voyager 1’s final photographic assignment which captured family portraits of the Sun and planets. Via The Planetary Society.

The Pale Blue Dot, part of Voyager 1’s final photographic assignment which captured family portraits of the Sun and planetsVia The Planetary Society.

Astronomer Carl Sagan insisted that NASA turn the Voyager I camera toward Earth on February 14, 1990, as the spacecraft reached the 4 billion mile mark on its inertial, interstellar journey toward and past the edge of our solar system.

But NASA had questions. What can be accomplished from such a distance? What is the possible scientific value to Voyager’s mission?

The late Dr. Sagan, one of our greatest interpreters and communicators of science, understoodinstinctively what Albert Einstein said decades prior:

Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.

Dr. Sagan made his case to NASA and today the Pale Blue Dot, as he named it, is one of the most famous pictures of our planet. Sagan’s 1994 book of the same nameis still an important read about the future of our space explorations.

The Voyager I image from 6 billion kilometers is not an inviting, high-resolution, blue, floating sphere that occupies the full universe of a glossy photo’s borders. The low-tech, .12 pixel rendition is almost lost to the viewer, barely visible in the spectrum of rays produced by the sun.

That was Dr. Sagan’s intent. The Pale Blue Dot invites us to imagine what we cannot grasp: the place of our diminutive, rocky home in the incomprehensibly large cosmos, and the undiscovered knowledge that awaits the imagination of a future generation.

On YouTube, there is a small cottage industry of video accompaniments to the beautiful narration taken from Sagan’s book, Pale Blue Dot. Below is mine. The voice is Dr. Sagan’s.