Thirty years ago today, the Voyager 1 spaceprobe had completed its ncounters with the outer planets and was careening out of our solar system. The time came to shut off the probes' cameras to preserve power and memory for the other onboard scientific instruments. But before engineers flipped the switch, one last photo opportunity was not to be missed. From my liner notes to the Voyager Golden Record vinyl box set:
Astronomer and educator Carl Sagan, a member of the Voyager Imaging Team, had persuaded NASA engineers to turn Voyager 1’s cameras back toward the sun and take the first-ever portrait of our solar system from beyond its outer boundary. Sixty frames, taken on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1990, were combined into a single mosaic, known today as the “Solar System Portrait,” albeit with Mars and Mercury lost in the sun’s glare. Centered in a ray of scattered light in the camera’s optics is a tiny speck, just .12 pixels in size: Earth from 6 billion kilometers away—a “pale blue dot,” as Sagan called it. It’s an iconic image that holds the power to shift our perspective in an instant.
“There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world,” Sagan wrote in Pale Blue Dot (1994). “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.”
Please join us in celebrating Carl Sagan's valentine to humanity:
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