A Word in Edgewise: Pronouncements from the Pale Blue Dot


People are always pronouncing that they know God’s intentions, and know them directly from the source, since He also gave them His one True religion. They know firsthand that God prohibits same-sex marriage and know for a certainly He has no truck with uppity Catholic nuns who help “certain people.”

These people came to mind as I was reading about Voyager One and Two in the latest Smithsonian magazine. Launched by NASA in 1977, they have been sailing out ever since, covering billions of miles as we back on Terra eat, sleep, and fuss over whether or not a law student who asks about birth control is a whore.

The Voyagers had their own tasks but Carl Sagan, astronomer and author, repeatedly petitioned for a shot of Earth from “out there.” For fear of blinding the camera when it turned towards our Sun, the project was delayed until the craft was 3.7 billion miles out.

Finally, on Valentine’s Day 1990, Voyager One looked back over its shoulder and snapped a shot of all the planets, a frame in which Earth took up exactly one pixel. Sagan dubbed this pixel “The Pale Blue Dot.”

Today, at 11 billion miles out, Voyager One’s signals, travelling at the speed of light, take sixteen hours to reach Earth, and Earth, should another portrait attempt be made, would be lost in the Sun’s glare, while it a bright star, just south of Rigel.

And the Voyagers have not yet entered interstellar space. When they do, notes Smithsonian writer Timothy Ferris, “they will encounter an environment so different from Earth’s environs as to challenge our homespun notions of what it means to go someplace.” Even then it will take Voyager Two 40,000 more years before it will pass within 1.7 light years from the red dwarf star Ross 248.

“Homespun” is what I hear when someone pronounces that thus and such has “always” been or that he knows what God wants. If I may make my own pronouncement, I believe that any maker of the infinite would have more concern for the well-being of his handiwork, of how those bits of carbon-based matter treated and cared for one another, than for outer trappings and incantations.

And the Voyagers travel on.

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