On Valentine's Day 1990, from more than four billion miles away, the Voyager 1 spacecraftsnapped our photo. From that distance, there wasn't much to see; the resulting shot simply showed several light beams with a tiny speck in one of them. Earth.
But that didn't stop the late celebrity astronomer Carl Sagan from writing rapturously about the meaning of this image, which he famously dubbed the "Pale Blue Dot." "To me," Sagan wrote of the picture, "it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."
Sagan infused the "Pale Blue Dot" with significance, but the truth is that, thanks in part to the difficulty of the shot, it was never a very good image. Enter planetary scientist Carolyn Porco, one of Sagan's scientific disciples and head of imaging science for the Cassini spacecraft, which is currently in orbit around Saturn and sending us back stunning images on a regular basis. "From day one," explains Porco on the latest installment of the Inquring Minds podcast(stream above), "I had it in my mind that I wanted to do that picture, only better. I wanted to make it beautiful."
Last month—appropriately enough, at a celebration for Sagan, dedicating his papers to the Library of Congress—Porco unveiled a new Pale Blue Dot image. Aesthetically, it is everything the original was not.