A Pale Blue Dot
How wonderful our universe is!
by Charlotte Benstead (revised, originally published in 2004)
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To encourage us to look at the universe around us with awe and wonder.
Preparation and materials
- You will need either a copy of The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams or images of the book’s front cover and the means to display them during the assembly. Examples are available at: https://tinyurl.com/ycbvml6k, https://tinyurl.com/ybr4vljg, https://tinyurl.com/yaxpjr5b and https://tinyurl.com/yal9taxz
- Have available an image of the Pale Blue Dot photograph, which was taken by the space probe Voyager 1 in 1990. You will also need the means to display the image during the assembly. It is available at: https://tinyurl.com/y97d4wr5
- Have available some images of Earth that were taken from space and the means to display them during the assembly. An example is available at: https://tinyurl.com/y9macsc4
- Have available the YouTube video ‘Eye to universe, eye to outer space, eye zooms into universe’ and the means to show it during the assembly. It is 3.16 minutes long and is available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWGWO2thgqw
- Greet the students with a salutation from a science fiction film or TV series, such as ‘May the Force be with you’ from Star Wars, or ‘Live long and prosper’ from Star Trek.
Ask if any of the students have ever noticed how we humans tend to be depicted as important in any sci-fi film or TV series. You might like to ask for some examples.
- Show the students a copy of The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, or show the images of the various front covers.
The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a comedy sci-fi series written by Douglas Adams. The story centres around an Earthman, Arthur Dent, who is one of a handful of survivors who remain when the planet is demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass.
In the story, Earth - which is the centre of our world - is described as ‘an utterly insignificant blue/green planet’ orbiting a ‘small, unregarded sun at the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the galaxy’. Indeed, the entry for ‘Earth’ in the Hitch-hiker’s Guide in the book is simply ‘Mostly Harmless’.
- Carl Sagan was an American astronomer, astrophysicist and astrobiologist who worked for NASA. He wrote a book called Pale Blue Dot, inspired by a photograph taken by the space probe Voyager 1, at Sagan’s suggestion, in 1990.
When the photograph was taken, Voyager 1 was about 6 billion kilometres away from the Earth. The pale blue dot of our planet is almost impossible to see.
In his book Pale Blue Dot, Carl Sagan said, ‘Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it . . . 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 hopeful child, every mother and father . . . 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.’
Sagan goes on to say, ‘Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.’
It is up to us!
- Show the image of the Pale Blue Dot photograph.
Point out Earth in the image – it is tiny!
- Ask the students to consider that there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human vanity than this distant image of our tiny world. It reminds us how small we are in comparison to the vastness of the universe. It emphasizes our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.
Time for reflection
Show the images of Earth that were taken from space.
Nowadays, we have millions of photographs of the Earth that were taken from space, but few have had the impact of the Pale Blue Dot. Today, we can look at amazing images from NASA and consider space in more detail than ever before. However, we still know relatively little about our vast universe – there is always more to discover. The further we travel into space, the more we realize that our planet is tiny in comparison.
Christians believe that our planet is more than just a pale blue dot. They believe that Earth was created by God: a mysterious, wonderful, sacred space.
Show the YouTube video ‘Eye to universe, eye to outer space, eye zooms into universe’.
When the video has finished, ask the students to close their eyes and consider what they have just watched. Ask them to consider how amazing Earth in space is, and how amazing it is that we are here together, carving out our own part in history.
Read the following quotation by Albert Einstein: ‘The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom the emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.’
Sometimes, we feel small and insignificant.
Help us to get our importance in perspective and enable us to realize that although our planet is small,
This seemingly insignificant pale blue dot that we inhabit
Is your precious creation and our precious home.
The opening theme of the Star Wars films, available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_D0ZQPqeJkk (5.51 minutes long)