A Small Blue Dot
by Charlotte Benstead
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To encourage students to look at the universe around them with awe and wonder.
Preparation and materials
- OHT of the picture of Earth taken from the Voyager probe. This can be downloaded from these websites:
http://now.ohah.net/earth/earth/1/pale-blue-dot.html (a larger version)
- A copy of The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.
- Greet the audience with a salutation from a science fiction film or TV series (e.g. 'May the Force be with you' from Star Wars ; 'Live long and prosper' from Star Trek , etc.). Ask if any of the audience have ever noticed how important we humans are always shown in any film or TV series. You might like to ask for some examples.
- Show the audience a copy of The Hitch Hikers' Guide to the Galaxy , and tell them that writer Douglas Adams centres his story on an Earthman, Arthur Dent, one of a handful of survivors who remain when the planet is demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass. The tale is a despair-ridden one. Our world, traditionally the centre of our 'Earthnocentric' view of the universe, becomes ‘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 entire Hitchhiker's Guide entry for ‘Earth' reads nothing more than ‘Mostly Harmless'.
- This apparently depressing view of the place we call home was taken up by Carl Sagan (1934–1996), born in New York, who from humble background became a scientist, a scholar and a communicator.*
When contemplating a photo of Earth, taken from the Voyager spacecraft in
deep interplanetary space, 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 being 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. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. 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.
- Ask your audience to consider that there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human vanity than this distant image of our tiny world. 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.
For Christians and other religious believers the earth is more that just a pale blue dot – it is the creation of God: a mysterious, wonderful, sacred space.*Sagan received many awards. He received 22 honorary degrees from American colleges and universities for his contributions to science, literature, education and the preservation of the environment and many awards for his work on the long-term consequences of nuclear war and reversing the nuclear arms race.
Time for reflection
Ask students to close their eyes and consider the relative smallness of an ant in comparison to a human being.
Now ask them to consider it from the ant's point of view.
we sometimes feel small and insignificant.
Help us to get our importance in perspective,
and allow us to realize that though small,
this seemingly insignificant small blue dot we inhabit
is your precious creation
and our precious home.
Alternatively, read this quote by Albert Einstein, and take a moment to reflect on it:
The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this 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.
‘All things bright and beautiful’
Any science fiction film or series theme tune.