This Friday marks the 30th anniversary of one of the most startling photos ever taken. On 14th February 1990, the spacecraft Voyager 1 set off for the far fringes of the solar system. Just before it left our planetary zone, the NASA mission crew turned it around for one last look at its home planet. The spacecraft was around 6.3 billion kilometres from Earth when it took the photograph shown above.
The Earth can - just about - be seen as the smallest, pale blue dot in the middle of a sunbeam. It makes the vastness of space and the smallness of our world suddenly seem very real.
The American writer and scientist Carl Sagan spoke beautifully about his reaction when he saw this photo. Here is part of what he said:
'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. 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 harbour 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.'
The photograph has been displayed on all the School home-screens this week and I asked the pupils to think about their interpretation of it, in light of the comments above - whether they feel excited by what’s out there, and the fact that their generation will come to know more than ours ever will about other regions of space; whether they feel humbled by the fact that we are all no more than a tiny spec on a tiny dot; or whether it makes them think even more about the question of how and whether we will be able to preserve and protect our pale blue home for those who will follow us. Whatever our reaction to this incredible photograph, It certainly puts things into perspective - both literally and metaphorically.
Wishing everyone a good half-term break - and for those in the Upper Sixth who are taking A Levels, I hope the preparation for the mock examinations goes well.
P.S Click on the links below to find out more about what’s been happening in School this week, and, if you don’t already, make sure you follow our social media accounts (Twitter @Brentwood_Sch and @Brentwood_HM), Facebook (@BrentwoodSchoolUK) and Instagram (@brentwood_sch) to keep abreast of news, trips and visits over the half-term break.