The other day I picked up Carl Sagan’s classic 1994 book Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space at a used bookstore. (“Used bookstore” is my euphemism for the bookshelf at the back of our neighborhood Goodwill.) It’s been a great read, both for Sagan’s mellifluous prose and the time-stamped nature of a science book.
To note one example of that time-stamped nature, at one point Sagan opines that in the coming years many planets will be discovered in our galaxy. Of course, that’s been proven in spades since the 2009 launch of Kepler, an observatory devoted to the discovery of earth-like planets. At this point, you should set aside an hour to watch this fascinating 2015 Nova program “Alien Planets Revealed”:
Sagan talks a lot in the book about the Voyager 1 and 2 exploratory probes. Check out this NASA website which charts in real time the distance of these two probes (launched when ABBA was playing in disco clubs from Seattle to Stockholm). Sagan says in the book that the Voyagers could keep running on their nuclear batteries until 2015. Current projections have shifted to 2020-25. At present Voyager 2 is still on the edge of the heliosphere (the border between the sun’s dominant solar wind and the point where the matter from other stars becomes dominant). But Voyager 1 has already passed into interstellar space.
The eminently-quotable Sagan gives any reader a bevy of material on which to draw. For this day, the following sentence seems appropriate: “In some respects, science has far surpassed religion in delivering awe.” (p. 52) He’s right. The universe is grander and more extraordinary than we ever imagined. Science delivers awe in spades.
But as a modest rejoinder one should add that for the religious mind, it is a religious awe. (For further discussion see my article “Does the size of the universe support atheism or Christianity?“)