Picture of Earth as seen from Voyager I as it was leaving our solar system Picture of Earth as seen from Voyager I as it was leaving our solar system

Carl Sagan and His Famous ‘Pale Blue Dot’ Speech (1994)9 min read

Culture Politics Science
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A. Background

Carl Sagan
Carl Sagan

While watching a video or two from Neil deGrasse Tyson (one of which I recently posted: Video: Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Keynote Speech for the 28th National Space Symposium (2012)) I saw a lecture from Carl Sagan in the sidebar, so I decided to give the original Cosmos narrator’s wisdom a spin. I was not at all disappointed. In there was his original Pale Blue Dot speech which is what I want to point you to below.

Now, as far as people are concerned, I do consider Carl Sagan amazing, gifted, and prophetic. He is a powerful and gifted speaker, and a prolific author who was able to explain more complicated concepts so that people can understand them. He is also Neil deGrasse Tyson’s personal mentor and hero too. I wondered where Neil gets his ability to explain complex concepts from! =)

B. Read More

I. The Video: Carl Sagan’s 1994 “Lost” Lecture: The Age of Exploration

So, here is that amazing lecture that he gave at the University of Cornell: Carl Sagan’s 1994 “Lost” Lecture: The Age of Exploration (1:36:00). The total video is 1 hour and 36 minutes long. The first hour is his speech, the very last part of which is the famous Pale Blue Dot speech. The last half and hour or so is a Question & Answer session which is still very interesting.

Here are some of the 4 major sections of the video in case you want to skip around a bit:

  1. Introduction (00:00:00)
  2. Carl Sagan’s Main Speech (00:05:15)
  3. Pale Blue Dot Speech (1:02:30)
  4. Question and Answer Session (01:05:57)

…although I will post the Pale Blue Dot part in the next section for further use. Here is the full video of his lecture:

Carl Sagan’s 1994 “Lost” Lecture: The Age of Exploration (1:36:00)

II. Carl Sagan’s Famous Pale Blue Dot Speech

A. Genesis of the Pale Blue Dot Picture

The Pale Blue Dot photo was taken by the Voyager I probe at the request of Carl Sagan who convinced NASA that the photo was worth the cost even if it had no scientific value. The picture, he said, would show us “our place in the universe“. Many people opposed attempting to take the picture because of technical reasons such as: pointing back at the Sun may damage the imager in the interplanetary probe, but thanks to the tenacity of Carl and his supporters, such as NASA Administrator Richard Truly, Voyager I was adjusted in to attempt to take the picture for Carl and for posterity.

On February 14, 1990, while on its way out of the Solar System, Voyager I turned around to take a photo of Earth. It took this picture from 6 billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles) away. You can kinda see Earth there on the right side in that orangish verticalish band. In there is that slightly lighter speck – that tiny pale blue dot, or as Carl put it “a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam“. This is one of the most powerful photos ever taken.

Picture of Earth as seen from Voyager I as it was leaving our solar system
Picture of Earth as seen from Voyager I as it was leaving our solar system

B. The Pale Blue Dot Speech

Here is a link to the Pale Blue Dot section of his speech (video below).

C. Transcript of the ‘Pale Blue Dot’ Speech

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. 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 Saga’s famous Pale Blue Dot speech given at Cornell University in 1994

D. Readings of the Pale Blue Dot Speech

III. Pale Blue Dot, the Book

Carl Sagan had also published a book with the title of ‘Pale Blue Dot’:

Although, here is the audio book read by Carl Sagan himself on YouTube:

Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space by Carl Sagan
Audio book as read by Carl Sagan

IV. Cosmos, the Series

A. Cosmos with Carl Sagan

Airing from September to December in 1980, the original series of Cosmos: A Personal Voyage by Carl Sagan’s had only 1 season and 13 episodes to it.

You can watch the: full Cosmos series series here on the Star Stuff channel on YouTube:

B. Cosmos with Neil deGrasse Tyson

Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey also had 1 season and 13 episodes. Thankfully, a second season is planned for later in 2019 and it has moved from Netflix to National Geographic. The first season is available for pay on:

  • YouTube
  • Amazon
  • and other places.

My daughter and I have watched this series quite a few times while it was on Netflix. I am deeply saddened that it has moved and we no longer have access to it. =(

C. Only 2 or 3 Seasons of Cosmos?

There is the a wonderful meme that pops through Facebook every so often that kind of explains how I feel about America, as broken as it is, having only having 2 seasons of Cosmos:

The fact that there are 14 seasons of Keeping up with the Kardashians and only 2 seasons of Cosmos tells you everything you need to know about humanity.
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