Ransom, Sagan, and Seeing Earth from Malacandra

In the first book of C. S. Lewis’ space trilogy, Dr. Elwin Ransom views Earth through a telescope on the surface of Malacandra, also known as the planet Mars.

“It was all there in that little disk–London, Athens, Jerusalem, Shakespeare.  There everyone had lived and everything had happened…”  (Out of the Silent Planet, Ch. 15)

Carl Sagan, a man of much different spiritual beliefs than Ransom or Lewis, had a very similar meditation on a photograph of his world from far away.

“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.” (Pale Blue Dot)

Today, a telescope called HiRISE orbits Mars aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Normally used for high resolution imaging of the Martian surface, it was turned toward its home world on Oct. 3, 2007.  The resulting image is the closest one we have to what Dr. Ransom would have seen:

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