It’s a noisy, pixelated image, like a bad piece of modern art. Streaks of pink and green and orange run vertically against a smeary, mostly black background. Positioned about half way down the orange streak,the only other feature to the photo: a small dot, perhaps a touch brighter and more distinct than any other speckle of noise. It’s barely recognisable as a photo of anything. But it’s my favourite photo, has been for years and will be forever.
You might recognise this photo, you might recognise that dot. It’s Earth. Home. The pale blue dot. A photo taken by Voyager 1 from beyond the orbit of Saturn, and movingly narrated to by the astronomer Carl Sagan. But you can’t really see anything in it at all, and that is why it’s my favourite photo, no matter how I feel.
Like everyone else, I sail the emotional waves of life, sometimes stormy, and, like everyone else, I have been exhilarated, terrified, furious, stressed and upset. Yet looking at this photo will calm me instantly, leave me with a contentment paradoxically matched to a passion and inspiration to act. It turns out that it’s all about the scale.
Because at the scale of this photo, nothing in my world or anyone else’s, no problem or achievement, can make a difference. It just does not matter. And so I am free from the burden of achieving any standard other than the one I set on my own. Remembering that it cannot matter, I am content.
Yet the simple vast scale of the universe also hints at what it might be possible to achieve. No abstract description can ever communicate the staggering enormity of the sandbox in which we could play, and of how little we’ve ever had the chance to play in. But it is something this image hints at. That our Earth, which can seem so large and varied and infinitely explorable, is so inconsequentially small in the context of a single solar system… And there are 250 billion stars in this galaxy, 500 billion or more galaxies in this universe. Dozens of stars, 100’s of galaxies for every man, women or child on Earth. The world is larger than we could ever imagine.
And so, when I look at this photo, I remember that the universe is a vast and awe-inspiring place, and there is so much that is new quite literally on our doorstep that life will always be entertaining and challenging and interesting. Remembering that, I am happy.