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On a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam

Observatory pale blue dotIn an earlier post I wrote: “Josepth Amato in his book Dust makes the point that in the West our obsession with the very small over the past century – germs, cells, genes and then on into atoms and the subatomic – has as much to do with our development of electrical light to ‘see into the corners’ of things as it had to do with the technologies we developed for viewing, such as microscopes and scanners. We are obsessed with lighting things, and along with this, cleanliness. Junicharō Tanizaki in his book In Praise of Shadows notes this too: “…Westerners attempt to expose every speck of grime and eradicate it, while we Orientals carefully preserve and even idealize… this ‘sheen of antiquity’… which is in fact the glow of grime.” I have now seen a few of the Planetarium shows at the Science Centre and they just blow my mind! I haven’t imagined myself in space for a long time, not since the Moon landings; however these shows are throwing things wide open again, as I try to get my head around the sheer scale of things, and such weird concepts that if you could go far enough outside our Solar System and look back at Earth you could see the dinosaurs (more on that in another post). So I have been thinking about scale and light, which brought me back to another boyhood memory, of Carl Sagan and his TV shows. He also was in charge of the Voyager space mission and in 1990 had it turn its cameras back towards Earth and take this picture. Here are some of his words about that image: “Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. 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.” Thank you Jenny, Alex for your mind-bending Planetarium shows. [This Voyager image is taken from 6 billion kilometres away and is by NASA.)

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