Matthew Burns

Pale Blue Dot

[The below is taken from a School assembly delivered by School Chaplin, Rev. Paul Sweeting]

Michael Collins was the 3rd man on the Apollo mission to the moon.  He stayed up in the command module. 

There were times when he was completely out of contact with the Earth – his orbit took him to the far side of the moon.  On the far side, he couldn’t see Earth and couldn’t speak to Earth because radio communication was blocked by the Moon.  Totally alone.

Today we look at another first: a very unusual photo.  It’s the furthest ever photo taken of our home, planet Earth.

It is known as the Pale Blue Dot.

Back in 1977 one of those deep space probes was launched – Voyager 1.  Launched from Earth, it visited Jupiter and Saturn before heading on beyond, travelling at a speed of 40,000 mph.  It’s still travelling that fast as it heads away from us.

It’s left the Solar System and is heading to interstellar space: the vast region of space between the stars.

Voyager 1 is the furthest human-made object ever.  Yet its instruments are still collecting data and sending it back, over 30 years after launch.  It’s hoped to keep it going for another 5 years as well.

Back in 1990 Voyager was just leaving the Solar System.  An astronomer called Carl Sagan suggested that the camera on board be turned around and take a photograph of Earth.  And that’s what they did.  It is the longest distance that a photo has ever been taken of Earth.  It’s a distance of 3 and a half billion miles.

The Earth is a tiny dot, blue-white, against the darkness of deep space among streams of light from the Sun.  You’ll have to look carefully to spot Earth.

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Photo credit: Click here

Carl Sagan reflects on this photo of Earth, that tiny blue dot, and says this:

On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives…every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam…

…Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this [dot] 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.’

Looking at Earth from space gives us a different perspective – on ourselves.  It gives us a bigger vision of the cosmos.

And it can give an idea, just a hint, of what it means to say that God is Almighty.

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