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Pale Blue Perspective (with Ann Druyan)

Photo of Ann Druyan is ©2008 Bob Lee

Dean chats with author, director and Cosmos producer Ann Druyan about her perspective on the universe. Listen in to hear about a "Noah's Ark of human culture," the biggest group picture ever taken, and a love story that transcends our solar system.

Homework Assignment:

What would you select for your own Golden Record? Send us your chosen songs, sounds and images at or post them on social media using #lookinguppod

Additional resources referenced in this episode:


Looking Up is transcribed using a combination of AI speech recognition and human editors. It may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

Dean Regas: You know, I may be wrong, but I think astronomers have a different perspective on things. Mostly the sense of scale, size, time. I mean, we're constantly looking at things in space that are millions to trillions of miles away. Almost everything we look at is big. Bigger than the Earth, certainly bigger than ourselves.

And we think in time scales of billions of years. There are a few images of space that I think kind of bring it all home. These are the pictures taken of Earth from space. Kind of like our robotic selfies. There is that image from 1968 taken by the Apollo 8 crew.

[Audio from Apollo 8 Mission]: Okay, we're rolling around to a good view of the Earth...

Dean Regas: As they rounded the moon. Came around the far side and beheld the earth rising above a barren lunar landscape.

[Audio from Apollo 8 Mission]: That's a beautiful, beautiful view with a predominantly blue background and just huge covers of white clouds.

Dean Regas: Sitting so fragile in the blackness of space.

[Audio from Apollo 8 Mission]: I hope everyone enjoys the pictures that we're taking of themselves.

Dean Regas: Then there's the image taken by the Cassini spacecraft from behind the rings of Saturn, almost a billion miles away.

[TV Clip]: CRAF and Cassini are the first missions in Mariner Mark 2, a new series of spacecraft being designed to explore the outer solar system.

Dean Regas: And just above a ring, there's a little dot, just a few pixels on an image.

That's the Earth. That's all of us. Kind of puts things in perspective, doesn't it? From the studios of Cincinnati Public Radio, I'm your host, Dean Regas, and this is Looking Up, the show that takes you deep into the cosmos or just to the telescope in your backyard to learn more about what makes this amazing universe of ours so Our guest this week is Anne Druyan, an author, director, and producer, and she worked on all versions of the popular Cosmos TV series. She's going to be giving us her cosmic perspective.

[The Tick]: Once again, we're here with prominent superheroes, the Tick and Arthur.

Dean Regas: Before we get into deep thoughts and whatnot, I have to share one of my favorite lines in all of our culture. Yeah, I know. This is going to be crazy, but it comes from The cartoon TV show from the 1990s, The Tick.

[The Tick]: Good morning, America!

Dean Regas: Now, maybe people aren't familiar with this cartoon but people who know me well, they grudgingly acknowledge my love of this form of comedy. So, The Tick is a satirical look at the superhero genre. You know, like, they have over the top villains.

[The Tick]: Am I speaking to the White Bread Baking Company? This is the Breadmaster with a question for you.

Tick, if we don't do the shopping, we won't have anything for dinner.

Dean Regas: Talks big, but it's not too terribly bright.

[The Tick]: I am a man of mystery.

Dean Regas: So, the line that I really love, they're interviewing the big blue superhero, and he is asked about his superpowers.

[The Tick]: Can you tell me, what do you do?

Dean Regas: When asked, can you destroy the earth?

Can you destroy the earth?

Dean Regas: He replies in horror-

[The Tick]: Eee, gad, I hope not. That's where I keep all my stuff!

Dean Regas: Yeah, I mean, that's the earth. The Earth, that's where we keep all our stuff. I don't know why I just laugh at that every time I think about it. Just because it's simple, but it's actually pretty profound.

I mean, the Earth, that's where everybody you know lives. All in one place. It's our one oasis in a cold, dark universe. It's moving to see the whole Earth at one time. You know, seeing everyone you know all in one picture. So, I don't know, whenever I get asked about doomsday scenarios, you know, asteroid impacts, rogue planets, gamma ray bursts, and things that could destroy us all from above, I go back to that line.

EGAD, that's where we keep all our stuff, is on the earth. What I've figured out is, in doing this for all these years, is astronomers love what they do. You know, we've got very famous ones, like Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson. They come across almost as kind of like poets, too, and the way that they talk, and the way they explain the unexplainable.

Boy, it's just an amazing field to get into, and the perspective you get on life is pretty amazing. Of course, there's There are always life lessons, even from The Tick .

[The Tick]: That's where I keep all my stuff.

Dean Regas: Well, Ann, thanks so much for talking with us today.

Ann Druyan: Oh, it's great to be with you. It's always good to be with you.

Dean Regas: So we're talking cosmic perspectives, and you worked on the NASA's Voyager missions and helped create I think one of the most lasting messages in history. You know, tell us about the, the Voyager records and what it was like kind of putting them together.

Ann Druyan: It was heaven. So this is 1977 and Carl Sagan and Frank Drake, two, Giants, in my opinion, have been asked by NASA to include a message on the two Voyager spacecraft that will be launched in August and September of that year. In space science, two unmanned Voyager spacecraft like this are now on their way toward the planets Jupiter and Saturn.

Their journey could last over a decade. And the reason for doing this is they've done the Pioneer plaque with Linda Salzman and created this kind of license plate for the Pioneer spacecraft. But now the Voyagers are going to be doing this fantastic first reconnaissance of the outer solar system. They will discover moons and volcanoes and undersea oceans and really turn those little lights in the sky into real places for the first time to us.

[TV Clip]: The program is designed to yield valuable new information about the origins of the solar system and formation of the earth. One of the ways that we'll do this is with pictures

Ann Druyan: And then as a gift from the mighty planet Jupiter this fabulous gravitational assist that will expel them in two different directions out of the solar system to travel the Milky Way galaxy Circumnavigating it's maybe a dozen times over the next five billion years billion years.

What's so magnificent about it is in that beautiful spring of 1977, Carl Sagan, Frank Drake, Linda Saltzman Sagan, and Timothy Ferris and I had the honor of creating a Noah's Ark of human culture.

Long after our planet no longer exists, even after the Milky Way galaxy will have begun to collide with its neighbor Andromeda, these two records Of our music, our greetings in some 60 languages, including the language of our fellow Earthlings , the humpback whales. Images of the planet and life here,

as well as a sound essay to telling the history of our world will survive.

It was my crazy. privilege to be this creative director of what I consider to be the most ambitious conceptual artwork in the history of our species. And during the course of that experience, Carl Sagan and I, we'd known each other for years, we'd worked together on other projects, but it was during the making of this wonderful message to the distant future and to the beings of other worlds that we fell in love .

Dean Regas: Wow. I mean, to make that message, it is a work of art and looking at the playlist, of course, there's one song I recognize Johnny be good by Chuck Berry. I mean, like that you pick that one that I love it. Like, how do you make a message for aliens and include things like this?

Ann Druyan: Well, this is my fantasy, you know, that somewhere there's some warehouse with all the derelict spacecraft of civilizations piled up high and somewhere in there, a researcher finds the golden discs of Voyager.

And we included a stylus and instructions for play in sort of scientific hieroglyphics.

And so it's my fantasy that. Chuck Berry or Blind Willie Johnson or Louis Armstrong or a Bulgarian shepherdess or a Chinese virtuoso on the chin, a stringed instrument or a Senegalese percussion piece or a child singing in the Andes, Peru. Or a night chant of a Native American tribe. Those inspired bits of culture will ring out throughout some other world.

And power of music will really prove to be universal. That's my fantasy, anyway.

Dean Regas: Well, and then the power of visuals from astronomy, too. I, I, I have to ask about the, the other legacy I think for me is, is Voyager went his way out in the solar system, turned around and took that picture of us, of the Earth, you know, known as the Pale Blue Dot picture. What, what do you think that picture revealed?

Ann Druyan: Well, you know, I have to, of course, declare my bias because I remain deeply in love with Carl Sagan all 27 years after his death. And I think Voyager. The record, the Pale Blue Dot image, are sort of emblematic of who Carl was.

[Carl Sagan reading from Pale Blue Dot]: Here's this spacecraft that is flown by the Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune system, is on its way, astonishingly, to the stars, a triumph of human engineering.

Ann Druyan: A person whose feelings were not at the expense of his skepticism, his rigor as a scientist. He could be both. He could be the kind of scientist who is a member of the imaging team on Voyager and every spacecraft mission of NASA. From the dawn of the space age until his untimely death in December of 1996.

[Carl Sagan reading from Pale Blue Dot]: We turn the cameras back and take a photograph of the planet from where it came.

Ann Druyan: And it was he who started in 1981 to plead for the Earth. With NASA to take one last picture after it gave us its thousands of pictures of the outer solar system so that we could get some kind of perspective.

[Carl Sagan reading from Pale Blue Dot]: And there is our, a Pale Blue Dot.

Ann Druyan: Not the center of the universe, not the crown of creation, but a one pixel image in a universe of stunning, incomprehensible vastness. And so the scientists and the bureaucrats said, well, Carl, what's the purpose of this picture? What's the scientific value of this picture?

But Carl knew that had the potential to bring us to our senses and to realize what's really going on.

[Carl Sagan reading from Pale Blue Dot]: It's a very small stage in a great cosmic arena.

Ann Druyan: And it was Carl who, of course, wrote the meditation on the Pale Blue Dot after he succeeded in persuading NASA to take that picture.

[Carl Sagan reading from Pale Blue Dot]: That's us. That's home. That's where we are.

Ann Druyan: And all over the world, people have tattooed those words on their bodies. They have been married to those words. Yes, they have been buried to those words. Because, ultimately, when all is said and done, that is really our situation.

[Carl Sagan reading from Pale Blue Dot]: The delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe seemed to me challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint. That there's anyone who will come and save us from ourselves.

Ann Druyan: We need each other. We have to take care of each other. And we can't be the gnats fighting over a grape for momentary domination of a tiny piece of a Pale Blue Dot. Instead, we have to be the species that can grasp what's going on and awaken from our stupor and start caring for each other and this beautiful planet. That will happen. Only if we do it. You know, of all the worlds that Voyager showed us up close, in my view, there was nothing that compares to this one.

[Carl Sagan reading from Pale Blue Dot]: To me, this is one of many demonstrations, through astronomy, of the folly of human conceits. To me, this picture underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the Pale Blue Dot. The only home we've ever known.

Ann Druyan: One of the reasons I think Carl is more loved than ever now is that he's that rare combination of the scientist who is not alienated, who, who can connect with virtually everyone.

And who wants to, because he understands that's, that's really what life's about.

Dean Regas: And there's two asteroids out there in space. Asteroid 4970 Drien and asteroid 2709 Sagan. And they're out there in space said to be in a companion orbit. I mean, are astronomers romantics? What's going on here?

Ann Druyan: I can't generalize about astronomers. I've known some very romantic ones and some less so. But I like the fact that they're in perpetual wedding ring orbit around the sun. That is crazy. It's been a tremendous comfort for me to know that no matter what happens, to me, those feelings live forever on two different spacecraft going in very different directions, which is how the Voyagers taught us the shape of our solar system as it moves through the Milky Way galaxy.

Just a little bit of simple geometry, but what a revelation that was to add to all of their many discoveries, too many to even list here. And so there's a kind of a great beauty to the idea that that record, which has so much great music on it and beautiful imagery and greetings. From crickets and whales and humans is it lives on.

Dean Regas: Whew, man, I'm like I'm a little emotional here.

Ann Druyan: Good, good. It is emotional. I mean, that's what Carl was about. You know, no walls. Tear down those walls. Between science and the rest of us. And, you know, in gathering the data, for science, you have to be rigorous, cold eyed, dispassionate, but once you know a little something about nature, even though you know it might be wrong, and we might discover that later on, why not exalt in the grandeur of nature with all your heart?

Dean Regas: Wow, well this has been so amazing talking with you today, and thank you so much. It's like, it's like poetry and astronomy and love and everything merged into one. It's so awesome talking with you.

Ann Druyan: Thanks so much. so much. It's my pleasure. It was great talking with you, and thanks for helping me remember that wonderful time.

Dean Regas: Man, I am, I'm really fascinated by that idea of, you know, creating a message, and that message attached to the Voyager spacecrafts in long play records, zooming away from us at tens of thousands of miles an hour. But the real question to me is, How, how would you sum up Earth? Like, if you had to make a message on a spacecraft, what would you include?

This was, I mean, it had to have been so tough to do. So here's your homework. What would be on your playlist for aliens? You know, tell us what you think the messages of Earth should be. Comment or send us a message at lookingupatwvxu. org. I don't know, I'm telling you, I think Johnny B. Goode's still on my list.

So I wanted to dip into the old email bag. We got an email from a listener, Paul in response to our episode with Andy Weir and The Martian and Project Hail Mary. And so Paul writes to us, says, Hey Dean, I've read all of Andy Weir's books and enjoyed them. Several other recent authors I've found who have written some wonderful science fiction, well, I've got three of them to recommend.

First, Charlie Jane Anders and the wonderful The City in the Middle of the Night. Secondly is Becky Chambers The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. And third, Sushin Liu with The Three Body Problem, which I understand is being made into a miniseries or a movie. Well, Paul, thanks so much for the email. It gave us some homework and some things to look for.

Looking up with Dean Regas is a production of Cincinnati Public Radio. Kevin Reynolds and I created it a few years ago. Ella Rowen is our show producer, editor, and is totally doing air guitar to the sounds of Earth right now. Marshall Verbsky assists with audio production, editing, and swears he can see his house from the Pale Blue Dot picture.

That's a big house. Jenell Walton is our vice president of content. Ronny Salerno is our digital platforms manager and Brittany Mayti is our social media coordinator. Our theme song is possible light by Ziv Moran and our cover art is by Nicole Chance. Keep looking up.