Check out the image above. Doesn't seem like much, does it? Maybe someone snapped a picture while the lens cap was still on.
Take another look. On closer examination, the picture resolves into four bands of light. Check out the band farthest to the right. Look about halfway down. There is a small dot, brighter than its surroundings. It isn't a speck of dust, it isn't a smudge on the camera lens or on your monitor.
It's all of us.
In 1990, at the request of famed astronomer and broadcaster Carl Sagan, NASA sent a command to the Voyager 1 spacecraft, on its way out of the Solar System, to turn its camera in the direction from which it came. The above image is the result.
The picture is frequently referred to as the "pale blue dot," and provided both the frontispiece and the title for one of Sagan's most celebrated books, published in 1994. Sagan himself, as was his wont, expressed its significance with an eloquence to which most of us can only aspire:
From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of particular interest. But for us, it's different. Look again at that dot. [...] 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.
Everything in our history – the Age of Dinosaurs, the rise of mammals, ice ages and mass extinctions, and the evolution and geographic expansion of one particular primate – has taken place on that insignificant spot.
The point at which one year yields to the next is often a time of reflection and resolution. There can be few things more deserving of either than the world we share, that our ancestors shared, that our descendants will share: our home, tiny and vulnerable, a pale blue dot in the vastness of space.