Shakespeare in Space #6: There is a World Elsewhere

1.44 Billion Kilometers away,
Cassini spotted Earth from Saturn
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute, modified by Dan Levesque

On July 19, 2013, NASA's Cassini spacecraft took this image from behind Saturn. Visible in the bottom right is our pale blue dot—Earth itself—smiling from 1,440,000,000 kilometers away. At the moment that Cassini took this photo, light from Earth had been travelling for 80 minutes to reach its photographic lens. By comparison, it only takes light from the sun 8 minutes to reach Earth. 

NASA invited the world to look up and smile towards Saturn on the day the image was to be taken. Part of a larger mosaic that is composed of 141 wide-angle images taken by Cassini over a course of four hours (the result of which can be seen here), this marked only the third time that a 'pale blue dot' image of Earth had been captured by a deep-space probe (the first being captured by Voyager in 1990, and the second also by Cassini in 2006).

Below, a magnified version of this image shows Earth and Moon clearly resolved as distinct objects. 

The Shakespearean quote comes from the play Coriolanus (circa 1605-1608). The title character, a decorated war general who's been given the nickname "Coriolanus" by the commander-in-chief of the Roman army, announces his intention to run for public office after having completed a successful military campaign. Following great backlash from the citizens of Rome (due to the perceived brutality of Coriolanus' actions), an angered Coriolanus retorts: 


For you, the city, thus I turn my back:
There is a world elsewhere.

In Coriolanus' eyes, democracy has made Rome weak—he believes that positions of power should be held by those who have earned them rather than by those who have been elected by common citizens. Coriolanus thus turns his back on Rome and intends to travel to a place more worthy of his talents, uttering the line "there is a world elsewhere" in proclamation that Rome is not the center of the universe, and that there are yet other nations on Earth which exist beyond the sphere of influence of the Roman state. 


Aedile: The people's enemy is gone, is gone!
Citizens: Our enemy is banish'd! he is gone! Hoo! hoo!

In Coriolanus' departure, the citizens of Rome fail to recognize the talented general that they have foolishly cast out. Coriolanus will later go on to join forces with Rome's greatest enemy, the Volscians in the North, to lead a devastating assault on Rome.

Similarly to Coriolanus' sentiment of there existing another world elsewhere, so too do there exist other worlds in the cosmos—even in our own backyard. In the distant future, many of the planets and moons of our solar system, including some of Saturn's moons, may one day be settled by humans. In this possible future, moving between worlds may become as simple as moving between countries is today.

One day, humans inhabiting the outer solar system may have a view of Earth that looks similar to that captured by Cassini—a pale blue dot floating on the horizon, just a bit too big to be a star, a mote of dust upon which rests the ancestral home of all mankind. 

Share Our Pale Blue Dot:

    Facebook