Voyager’s Valentine

Venus, Earth, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune as seen by Voyager 1 in 1990

On February 14, 1990, after nearly 13 years of traveling the outer solar system the Voyager 1 spacecraft passed the orbit of Pluto and turned its camera around to take a series of photos of the planets. The image above shows those photos, isolated from the original series and labeled left to right, top to bottom.

From that distance, over 4 billion miles from the Sun, the planets each appear as little more than a bright dot against the vastness of interplanetary space. And Voyager was still a long ways off from reaching the “edge” of our solar system, the bubble of energy emitted by the Sun in which all of the planets, asteroids and comets reside. In fact, Voyager 1 still has another five years to go before it crosses that boundary and truly enters interstellar space.

“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. … There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world.”

– Carl Sagan

It was the unique perspective above provided by Voyager 1 that inspired Carl Sagan to first coin the phrase “pale blue dot” in reference to our planet and in the title of his book. And it’s true…from the outer solar system, Earth is just a pale blue dot in the black sky, just another light in the dark. It’s a sobering and chilling portrait of our world…but inspiring too, as the Voyager 1 and 2 spacecrafts are the furthest man-made objects in existence. And getting further every second. They are still transmitting data back to us, although faintly, as they are very far now…almost 10 billion miles away.

And who says long-distance relationships can’t work? 😉

Read the release story here.

Image: NASA


  1. GentJ says:

    I’m afraid that it will not be entering “intergalactic space” until it leaves the Milky Way Galaxy, which may be quite some time from now. It will, however, be entering interstellar space…


    1. GentJ says:

      Oops, I misread it. You were right and I shouldn’t have tried to correct it. My apologies.


  2. Matty says:

    Not to be a pest, but the quote from Sagan was a wee bit longer than the excerpt that you took from it. His book was indeed called ‘Pale Blue Dot’, but the piece he wrote when this famous photo was released, was entitled ‘On A Mote Of Dust’. Here it is:

    “We succeeded in taking that picture [from deep space], and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every 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.

    The earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.

    Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity — in all this vastness — there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us. It’s been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known. -Carl Sagan

    This beautiful text says it all. And believe it or not, but it was through Sagan’s “Cosmos” series that as a young kid I started reading about the universe!


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