Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Saying Goodbye to Humanity

My apologies for the dirth of updates over the last few months.  An infant at home and an unusually busy semester load will do that to you...

I felt compelled to break my silence by an update on Voyager 1 that I read over at Bad Astronomy recently.  Since I have been wanting to post about the Voyager spacecraft for a while, now is the perfect time.

Voyager 1 was a NASA probe launched in 1977 to explore Jupiter and Saturn at a distance never before possible.  After providing some of the most fantastic science ever about these two monster planets, Voyager 1 slowly became something altogether different:  the ambassador of the entire history of our planet.

Recently, Voyager 1 reached a zone astronomers refer to as the "Heliosheath".  The picture below helps illustrate where this area is.

Basically, this is an area of space around our solar system where the solar wind from our sun no longer blows.  Voyager 1 has now officially said goodbye to our sun forever.  In a few years, she will leave the Helioshealth altogether and become the first object from planet earth to ever enter deep, interstellar space.

Realize that with time, all things will end on our planet.  At some point, our sun will engulf our world, destroying everything mankind has ever accomplished.  All knowledge or memory of our existence will be destroyed and it will be as if we never were.  All the timeless monuments to our brightest and best,  Egyptian pyramids that have survived 4000 years,  the Great Wall of China...they will all be gone forever.   Hopefully we will have long left our tiny planet for greener pastures by this time, but at this point, we can only hope for such an outcome.  

No matter what our future holds, Voyager 1 and 2 will always go forward, with evidence and descriptions of our existence.  On board each is a gold record with detailed instructions.  Any intelligent species who encounters these probes could then hear greetings in 55 different Earth languages, listen to the sounds of our whales, dolphins and weather, even listen to our music.  Due to this spacecraft, we are guaranteed that for as long as the universe exists, our place within it will always be known.

Soon, we will have to say goodbye to our stellar ambassador forever.  One of Voyager's last messages home before leaving our solar system was a picture.  One of the most famous NASA pictures of all time.  If you have never taken the time to stop and look at this picture, you cannot yet possibly know what it is to live and breathe.  That pale blue dot is us.

No one has ever immortalized the meaning of this picture better than the late, great Carl Sagan.  After seeing this picture, not too long before his death, Sagan urged us all to look at this picture in awe.

"From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of particular interest. But for us, it's different. Look again at that dot. 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. 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 mother and father, hopeful child, 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."  - Carl Sagan

Nothing else ever needs to be said...


  1. wow that is AMAZING!!!!! Can you believe that minuscule dot is us.

  2. GREAT!!! our identity is left to ETI

  3. Short but awesome description to the Voyager!!!

  4. amazing ,traveling 35 years in space ...

  5. This is amazing. With all the nonsense that is out on the net, its great to see something with intelligence and concern for our global community. Well done!!