Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Carl Sagan: Pale Blue Dot

By Len Hart, The Existentialist Cowboy

Carl Sagan left us a precious legacy. The Cosmos. And also a poignant reminder of the fragility of our own "pale blue dot", the fleeting ephemeral nature of all that is beautiful and worthwhile.

When Carl, if I may be so familiar, warned us about greenhouse effects and global warming, we listened. And not just because the beautiful Pachelbel's canon in D major played so persistently beautiful in the soundtrack. Sagan illuminated our world all too briefly and briefer still when measured against the cosmological eons about which he spoke so movingly.

We could do far worse than "getting caught up" in his vision. In retrospect, it seems mundane to say that he made of science an adventure. Rather, he made of evolution a symphony, of astronomy a sonnet. With his signature phrase "billions and billions", Sagan evoked for me my own childhood amid the vast expanses of West Texas where one could look up into a velvety black sky far from city lights where "God" had flung "billions and billions" of sparkling diamonds.

It is because the air is so crystal clear and so far removed from city lights that UT's famous McDonald Observatiory (pictured above) is located in the Davis Mountains near Fort Davis, just north of Big Bend. The Milky Way, our own spiral galaxy, is not cloud-like at night. It is as if Carl Sagan's "billions and billions" of stars could be seen individually in one panoramic sweep from Guadeloupe Peak to Santa Helena. It is no cliche that the stars at night are big and bright deep in the heart of Texas. Science was no longer study, it was the merging of one's own life and being with a cosmos vaster than could be imagined. That is my childhood recollection of our own cosmos. It is also Carl's legacy.

Watch and enjoy.

Carl Sagan: Pale Blue Dot

Carl Sagan's phrase "Pale Blue Dot" is now a part of the language. Not just a handy description of a tiny planet in a vast cosmos, it has changed the way we think about our precious and fragile vessel - Earth.


Obviously, Ted Turner's questions were posed before George W. Bush would attack and invade Iraq, perhaps destablizing a volatile Middle East in the process. Sagan referenced Mikhail Gorbachev. Surely it is remembered that it was Gorbachev who put total nuclear disarmament on the table at Reykjavik. It was Ronald Reagan who blinked. It is the Ronald Reagan legacy that George W. Bush keeps alive at our peril. Clearly, the most powerful people on earth had not listened to Sagan. And they are not listening now.

The following excerpts are Carl at his best - debunking superstition even as he celebrates the precious fragility of the home planet.
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 ... lived there on a node of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

- Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot


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