How the Celebrated “Pale Blue Dot” Image Came to Be
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—eight and a half years 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 Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, the sun and the vast nothingness in between them. This simple sequence of commands and the last of tens of thousands of images taken by both 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.
An endless, daring journey to the outer planets and beyond, the Voyager mission has become 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.