Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Pale Blue Dot

This is Mr. Weber's address to the student body on April 27, 2009.

This narrow-angle color image of the Earth, dubbed 'Pale Blue Dot' was taken by Voyager 1 on February 14, 1990 from approximately 4 billion miles away. NASA calculates the size of the dot as .12 pixels.

Reflecting on this dot, astrophysicist and popular writer on the cosmos Carl Sagan said:

If you look at it, you see a dot. That's here – That's home. That's us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every 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 in 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 the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. “

A “light year” is the distance light travels in one year. Light travels 186,000 miles per second. The nearest star to the earth, not counting the sun, is 4.2 light years away, or about 24 trillion miles. There are about a dozen stars we can see that are within 12 light years (72 trillion miles); most of the stars we see in the sky are considerably farther away than that. Just think—as you gaze up at the stars on a clear summer night, they are so far away it took the light you see shimmering at you 12, or 15 or 50 years to get to earth.

We tend to think how important we are, but astronomy reminds us we are but a speck in a vast, vast universe—a universe so big we can’t imagine it. The earth is puny by comparison, and we who live in it, even punier. Our artificial divisions, our petty disagreements that seem so important to us at a given moment are really trivial in the scope of things.

We are one earth, one family, one planet in a relatively small solar system among billions of other solar systems in this universe. Let’s pray for the day we can move beyond building fences that artificially separate us from one another. That was Jesus' prayer for us: "I pray also for those who will believe in me, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you." (John 17:21)

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