The Power of the ‘Pale Blue Dot’ Three Decades Later
The spacecraft that captured the famous, fuzzy photo grows weaker each year, but the image still soothes.
I emailed Amanda, who lives in Berlin now, to ask her why she decided to get the tattoo; she’d told me it was meaningful for her the day she got it, but I couldn’t remember the specifics. “I wanted to have a permanent reminder of how small my daily problems and heartbreaks were in the scheme of the universe,” she said. “I wanted to be able to look down and think, Oh yeah, none of this matters, so just try to be kind and grateful and enjoy yourself.”
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.
It is a lovely perspective, this view of outer space as salve, and it could be quite effective; after all, there’s no bigger picture than the entire universe. But more often, especially these days, I’ve heard a darker interpretation of our smallness in the face of celestial forces. A small corner of the internet invokes the workings of the cosmos as a way of dismissing depressing headlines here on Earth. Yes, everything is awful, such people half-joke, but who cares? We’re all going to perish during the heat death of the universe, anyway. Didn’t you hear our sun will collapse in on itself in less than 5 billion years? Or that the Milky Way is expected to collide with another galaxy even sooner?
At the risk of sounding too earnest—but what else are anniversaries for?—I hope “Pale Blue Dot” inspires the opposite. Believing that one-10th of a pixel on a screen is going to bring people comfort is foolish, of course. But it’s something.