Saturday, May 14, 2011

We're floating in space

When dealing with vexing problems (whether personal, interpersonal or work related) it has lately helped me to step back and have a more complete perspective (both of space and time) in terms of my current life trajectory. This thinking has especially come to the fore in recent months (and shook me up a bit) since I found a unique photo on the web, called the pale blue dot.

In the late 1970s NASA sent a spacecraft called Voyager 1 out to take photographs of the solar system. In 1990, as Voyager was leaving the solar system (its mission having been completed) a scientist named Carl Sagan requested that the camera be turned around so it could take a picture of earth, across the deep expanse of space. The result is this image here, taken from 3.8 billion miles from earth. Stare at it for a moment.

Sagan ended up titling a book after this image, and wrote the following when considering its deeper meaning:
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.

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.

Do read the whole thing. After reading Sagan's words about our lonely position in space, I was curious and found that Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the sun, is about 25 trillion miles from earth. In other words, when looking the photograph above, realize that it's more than 6000 times that vast distance (across soundless, -455°F space) before one reaches the nearest star (or alternate heat source). This gives us an idea of how precious and precarious our situation really is. The birds outside are now starting to chirp; I think they're aware of all this. Next time I'm interacting with someone, and, self-importantly, feel myself above the situation and the person with whom I'm dealing, I'll try and think of these facts.

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