Cassini, Huygens, Carter

Earth through Saturn's rings

This is a remarkable photograph. At first, as usual, I missed what is most remarkable about it. Typically, I miss the remarkable. As usual, I rely on friends to point it out.

For those who have been living under a rock on Mars, and who haven't seen this image, it is us. The cosmic speck is Earth, viewed through the rings of Saturn, from the Cassini space probe.

I was talking about this photo across the desks with Dale Carter last week at work.

I was coming at it from above, half-remembering a Christiaan Huygens quote from Carl Sagan's Cosmos that inspired me as a high school student. The we're-so-small-in-the-scheme-of-things, the why-do-we-divide-against-each-other-to-rule-some-pitiful-corner-of-this-small-spot point of view so bracing for a Cold War child at odds with his teachers.

Dale was coming at it from below, from Earth.

He said: "The most amazing thing about that pic is that we put the camera there and got the image back."

Yes, I thought in kinds of shards of insight.

Yes, that is a way of seeing it that I had not considered before.

The pic is a selfie.

A selfie as remarkable as the pyramids.

As easy to dismiss in this age of ubiquitous images as the contents of my Snapchat feed.

But as remarkable as the pyramids.

Getting the camera there an accomplishment of cosmic proportions; getting an image back, dizzying in its science and engineering and ability to read the kairos.

I know more and more about less and less. I see the same things over and over again. Think the same thoughts over and over again.

"Yes," I said, standing up. "You're right."

I thought: how unspeakable it would be if we on this dot in the vast black provided the camera that recorded and transmitted the end.

Would others somehow see it?

And then, back to Earth, and the remarkable life in front of me,  I thought: Thanks, Dale.


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