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The image below shows the blue marble Earth as viewed by the Kaguya Lunar Orbiter on April 6, 2008. The location on the Moon is around the South Pole on the back side, at a south latitude of 83 degrees or higher. You can see the North American continent on the image of the earth on the lower left and the Pacific Ocean in the center (the North American Continent is seen upside down, as the top of the image is the south of the Earth). This image is courtesy of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. The earth is seen from a distance of around 0.4 million kilometers away.

The next image is the first image ever taken of Earth from the surface of a planet beyond the Moon. It was taken by the Mars Exploration Rover, Spirit, one hour before sunrise on the 63rd Martian day, or sol, of its mission sometime in 2003. The contrast in the panoramic camera image was increased two times to make Earth easier to see. At 100 million miles away, the earth appears as a tiny speck on Mars’ horizon. This image is courtesy of NASA.

Though appearing to be space art, the impressive image of Saturn and its rings is a composite (layered) image made from 165 images taken by the wide‐angled camera on the Cassini spacecraft, over nearly three hours on September 15, 2006. The bottom image is a close-up view of the upper left quadrant of the rings, through which Earth is visible in the far, far distance, around 1.2 billion kilometers away.

Although the earth appears to be within Saturn’s ring system this is in fact an illusion. This image is courtesy of earth observatory NASA.

We rein in our interests to the kind of questions these images pose, regarding the significance of our planet and the myriad forms of life that exists on it, including the peculiar species of homo sapiens. Seen from a billion kilometers away, the Earth is a tiny dot in the vast expanse of space. It becomes invisible to the most powerful telescopes and imaging systems at distances beyond the solar system. This tiny dot is the house to innumerable life forms, possibly the only one of its kind that we know so far. From that perspective, the argument that sustaining Earth with its diverse life forms as the quintessential objective begins to hold water. In fact, one can put up a sound defense of that being the sole purpose of our life. Equally, one can claim earth’s importance or lack of it, is nothing more than that of any other celestial object of the Supernova. From the point of view of this vast cosmos, how does it really matter if life on earth precipitates to a premature closure, since the existence of earth is in any case is not a permanent fixture of the cosmos? Zillions of stars and planets are formed and annihilated in the various galaxies that constitute the universe and billions of them can possibly support life. Do we really have any special importance at cosmic scales? The answer really is, I don’t know.

– Dr. Madhav Krishna

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