"Pale Blue Dot" by NASA / Public Domain

How the Celebrated “Pale Blue Dot” Image Came to Be

Feb 18, 2020

By Carolyn Porco

Thirty years ago, on February 14, 1990, the Voyager 1 spacecraft directed its cameras to take one last historic array of planetary images. Sitting high above the ecliptic plane, nine years and three months beyond its last planetary encounter with Saturn and four billion miles from the sun, farther than the orbit of Neptune, the spacecraft intercepted and executed a set of instructions to acquire 60 individual exposures of seven of the eight planets, the sun and the vast nothingness in between. This simple sequence of commands and these last images of the of tens of thousands taken by Voyager 1 and its sister craft, Voyager 2, in their journeys across the solar system, capped a groundbreaking era in the coming of age of our species.

A daring, endless trek to the outer planets and beyond, the Voyager mission became iconic over the years in its scope and meaning: more rite of passage than expedition, more mythic than scientific. The extraordinary images of alien worlds never before seen, and the precognitive sense of being there that they evoked, connected laypeople the world over to Voyager’s historic pilgrimage into the unknown, with eternity the final port of call. It was not folly to feel that the mission would gift us all a measure of immortality.

The fabled Golden Record of Voyager heightened the fascination. The two Voyagers each carried a phonograph record of images, music, and sounds representative of our planet, including spoken greetings in 55 languages to any intelligent life-form that might find them. This was a message from Planet Earth vectored into the Milky Way—a hopeful call across space and time to our fellow galactic citizens. It thrilled to think that news of us and our home planet might be retrieved by some extraterrestrial civilization, somewhere and sometime, in the long future of our galaxy.

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