Pale Blue Dot, the most distant photograph ever taken of Earth, was created by the Voyager 1 space probe.

Voyager 1 was launched in September 1977 to study the outer Solar System including flybys of Jupiter and Saturn. Having completed the mission for which it had been created in November 1980, the spacecraft was allowed to continue its flight and leave the Solar System.

Carl Sagan, the astronomer and author, was a member of the Voyager imaging team and suggested that Voyager 1 should take a last photograph of Earth before the cameras were deactivated to allow their power to be used for the flight into interstellar space. NASA scientists were concerned that such a photograph, in which the Earth would be relatively close to the sun, could permanently damage Voyager 1’s Imaging Science Subsystem. They consequently held off turning the cameras around until 14 February 1990, by which time the spacecraft was approximately 6 billion kilometres from Earth.

Known as the Family Portrait series of images, Voyager 1 transmitted 60 frames back to Earth where NASA stitched them together to create a mosaic of the Solar System. Three of the images, each taken with a different colour filter, were combined to produce the Pale Blue Dot image, in which the tiny dot of Earth fills less than 1 pixel of the 640,000 pixels that make up the rest of the frame.

Barely visible within the vastness of space, Sagan reflected on the ‘pale blue dot’ at a public lecture at Cornell University and later wrote about it in his book that drew its name from the image.

‘Look again at that dot. 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.’

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© Scott Allsop