Exploring Space to Find Our Pale Blue Dot

The Earth is the tiny dot in the red ray of sunlight as seen from 4 billion miles away by Voyager 1. Credit: NASA

The Earth is the tiny dot in the red ray of sunlight as seen from 4 billion miles away by Voyager 1. Credit: NASA

It might be at once the most common question anyone who works in the broad field of space is asked, and it’s also one of the hardest questions to answer: why keep exploring space? There really is no shortage of reasons. Exploring space lets us answer those burning questions about the cosmos around us while simultaneously developing the technologies that make our lives better on Earth. But perhaps the most compelling reason is the most selfish one. Everything we do in space, every mission we launch, gives us more insight into our humanity and our place in the universe.

After Cassini turned around and photographed the Earth from Saturn last month, I started thinking about the power of Pale Blue Dot images and how we so often find ourselves and our own planet when we go out exploring space. The full article is on Al Jazeera English.

A Photographic History of Our Pale Blue Dot

Earth from Cassini Rings NASA

The Earth as seen by NASA’s Cassini Spacecraft on July 19, 2013. Were the small dot, halfway down the image and slightly to the right. Saturn and its rings are in the foreground. The blue haze is sunlight refracting from Saturn E ring, which is made of material shot into space from the moon Enceladus. Credit: NASA

A couple of weeks ago, the Cassini spacecraft, currently in orbit around Saturn, turned to look back at the Earth. It took a picture, and the result is stunning. Images of the Earth as seen by distant spacecraft have become a staple of planetary missions; hardly any leave the Earth without turning around to take a picture on their way to some far flung planet or moon. I made a slideshow for Discovery News showing, chronologically, how the “pale blue dot” images have evolved since we first saw the Earth from space in 1946. Taken together, they offer breathtaking perspective of our planet, what Carl Sagan called the pale blue dot. Because really, if you’re far enough, that’s all we are.

The Last Words on the Moon

LM Columbia's ascent from the lunar surface, caught remotely on video by the lunar rover's camera. Credit: NASA

LM Challenger’s ascent from the lunar surface, caught remotely on video by the lunar rover’s camera. Credit: NASA

We’ve just passed the 40th anniversary of Apollo 17 leaving the Moon. On December 14, 1972, commander Gene Cernan and lunar module pilot Jack Schmitt in the LM Challenger blasted off from Taurus-Littrow, ending the last manned lunar sojourn. It was a significant event, one worth commemorating with some well chosen words akin to Armstrong’s one small step on Apollo 11. So, what were the last words on spoken on the Moon 40 years ago?  [Read more...]