I’ve seen countless science fiction movies and documentaries about the future of humanity. Nothing I’ve ever seen is as inspiring and beautiful and realistic as this extraordinary short film by Erik Wernquist, narrated by Carl Sagan. Watch it and get ready for goosebumps.
For maximum effect, I highly recommend that you use headphones, turn off the lights, and make sure the video is playing back in HD:
Here’s the original text narrated by Sagan, from his book The Pale Blue Dot—a book that, if you haven’t yet, you must read.
For all its material advantages, the sedentary life has left us edgy, unfulfilled. Even after 400 generations in villages and cities, we haven’t forgotten. The open road still softly calls, like a nearly forgotten song of childhood. We invest far-off places with a certain romance. This appeal, I suspect, has been meticulously crafted by natural selection as an essential element in our survival. Long summers, mild winters, rich harvests, plentiful game—none of them lasts forever. It is beyond our powers to predict the future. Catastrophic events have a way of sneaking up on us, of catching us unaware. Your own life, or your band’s, or even your species’ might be owed to a restless few—drawn, by a craving they can hardly articulate or understand, to undiscovered lands and new worlds.
Herman Melville, in Moby Dick, spoke for wanderers in all epochs and meridians: “I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas…”
Maybe it’s a little early. Maybe the time is not quite yet. But those other worlds— promising untold opportunities—beckon.
Silently, they orbit the Sun, waiting.
After I saw it on my phone, I couldn’t resist opening my computer at 2:40AM—when Gawker’s J.K. Trotter sent it to me in the middle of the night—to share it with you as soon as possible.
This is our solar system, not fantasy worlds
As Wernquist says at the beginning, these are all real places from our solar system, recreated using NASA’s photographs and data. Here is a list of all the locations you can see in his film, with descriptions from Wernquist:
The opening shot is a montage showing a band of nomads walking westward across a valley somewhere in the north Middle East, just after sunset and around 10000 BC. In the emerging night sky, the planets are shining clearly. From the horizon in the lower right to the top left they are as follows: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.
Earth, near future
Sometime in the future, a large spacecraft is taking off from Earths orbit, filled with passengers on a long journey to somewhere else in the Solar System. This may be the first large colony to permanently settle another world.
The background is a classic photo of the Earth from space, with the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean, taken from the International Space Station on July 21, 2003. I mapped the photo on a curved plane and replaced the optical flare from the sun with a digital flare to be able to create some motion. The original photo can be seen here.
Great Red Spot, Jupiter
This is the view from a spacecraft in orbit around Jupiter, looking down at the huge anticyclonic storm known as the Great Red Spot.
The texture of the planet comes from a mosaic of photos from NASAs Voyager 1 flyby in 1979, assembled and processed by Björn Jonsson (as seen here).
Enceladus, moon of Saturn
Shown here is a spacecraft floating through the amazing cryo geysers on the south pole of Saturn´s moon Enceladus.
These geysers (discovered by the Cassini spacecraft in 2005) are formed along cracks in the moons icy surface and shoot powerful jets of – amongst other stuff – water vapor and ice particles into space. Some of the plumes reach heights of several hundreds of kilometers, and while most of it falls back as “snow” on the surface, some particles are shot into space and become part of the famous Rings of the parent planet of Saturn. The geysers are one of many hints that there are large bodies of liquid water under the surface of the moon, making Enceladus a prime target for the search for extraterrestrial life in the Solar System.
The photo I used for the background was taken by NASA with the Cassini spacecraft in 2005 and can be seen in its original form here. For the texture of the moon I took some liberties and tweaked parts of this beautiful composite of the full body of the moon, also by NASAs Cassini spacecraft.
This shot shows a person floating just above the plane of the famous Rings of Saturn. The Rings themselves are seen here only as a mess of tumbling blocks of ice, as the camera is in the middle of them, but their full shape is hinted in the shadow they cast on the northern hemisphere of Saturn, far in the distance.
The Rings of Saturn are immense! They main ring system have a radial width of about 65000 kilometers, from the edge of the inner D Ring to the outer F Ring. That means you could line up 5 Earths next to each other, starting from the edge of the inner ring and still have room to spare before you reach the outer edge. Yet they are remarkably thin. Observations vary from about a kilometer down to only ten meters or so. From a far distance they appear as an opaque disc, but from closer observation they are clearly a system of thousands upon thousands of stripes and gaps of varying widths. On an even closer look, it is revealed that all those stripes are made up of countless individual particles, ranging in size from smaller than a grain of sand to something like a basket ball. Some are large as a small bus. All of them made from clear water ice, constantly shattering and rebounding with each other, making the rings highly reflective in sunlight and so clearly visible to us.