1. Our insignificance in space
In 1990, thirteen years after its launch in 1977, the Voyager 1 space probe had reached the edge of our solar system. At the request of astronomer Carl Sagan, NASA commanded the probe to turn its camera back towards earth to take the photo you see below. In it, the earth can be seen as a single pixel, suspended in a beam of reflected light.
"Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us." – Carl Sagan— NASA (@NASA) April 22, 2018
Dubbed the 'Pale Blue Dot', this image is part of the 1st ever 'portrait' of the solar system taken by @NASAVoyager 1 from more than 4 billion miles from Earth: https://t.co/ig2D02JPX6 Happy #EarthDay! pic.twitter.com/cqPCfIcu7M
Sagan would later write the following:
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.
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 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 this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, 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.
2. Our insignificance in time
Pale Blue Dot puts our planet in perspective relative to the vastness of space. The applet below illustrates our existence relative to the time that has elapsed since the big bang.
Launch the applet and then slowly drag the slider to the right. Notice how recently dinsosaurs appeared, relative to the age of the earth. Notice how late in the timeline human beings appear.