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Saturday, May 10, 2014


The first time we had the opportunity to see our home, Planet Earth, from far away was in 1976, when the crew of the Apollo 17 spacecraft took a picture from 28,000 miles from Earth, which was named simply "Blue Marble". A beautiful ball floating in space. We can clearly see North America, the turquoise Caribbean Sea and part of South America. NASA turned the original photo upside down because this view of the Earth was "more socially accepted", since people are used to seeing Antarctica at the bottom.

Copyright © 1976 NASA

Trying to be faithfull to what the Apollo 17 crew saw, I decided to turn the photograph upside down and voilá! Now the focus is directed to the center, having Mexico as the focal point. This is what different perspectives are all about!

Copyright © 1976 NASA

Then, in 1990, Vogayer 1, which is the first human-made spacecraft to investigate interstellar space, took a picture of our planet from 4 billion miles away, on its way out of our solar system. The picture below shows what our home looks like from there (there is an arrow pointing at it): a speck of white light and probably a couple of pixels in the photo. Voyager 1 could take this picture because the sun was behind it and Earth was visible thanks to the sun's rays that illuminated it. Our Mother Earth looks so lonely in the vast darkness of space! What does this tell us about perspectives? ...In this context we are much less than the smallest known virus (porcine cicovirus or nanobes) in a tiny particle of dust!

Copyright © NASA 1990. "Earth"

Therefore, why are we so arrogant to think we can make decisions that negatively affect the fragile environment on which we depend? Why do members of the power elite think that they are better than everyone else, living on this dust particle, only because they have more rectangular pieces of paper with pictures of men on it? Looking at our pixel-sized home, doesn't it make you laugh to see us fighting among each other like enraged micro-viruses for power and control of the resources that are lightly encrusted on the surface of this granule of rock? I hope it does.

Let's continue following Voyager 1 on its way to the center of the Milky Way! 

Voyager 1 already left our solar system and is the only human-made spacecraft ever to travel so far away from home. It is already traveling between the stars in the  Milky Way. Let's zoom in and imagine where Voyager 1 could be now, taking our Sun as the departing point. 

Copyright @ 2010 NASA

From this galactic perspective, we are not even the smallest existing micro life form known to us and neither is the Earth a pixel any more. At the Galactic level, we simply stop existing altogether even from the Voyager 1 point of view.  

From this vast cosmic perspective, it is just a miracle to be alive on a tiny Blue Marble that has allowed us to exist so far. It would have been enough for Earth to be a little closer to the Sun to be incinerated or a little more far from it to be frozen. So, insignificant as we are, we are a miraculous event of synchronicity in this Universe and as such, we should be thrilled to be alive, take care of each other with love and do the same with our one and only Blue Home during the brief period of our lives. 

Copyright @ 2010 Nancy Barra"Ocean Autumn", Pastel on La Carte paper,
12" x 16", from: from:Nancy Barra Contemporary Art/Arte Contemporáneo

Looking at the stars is one of the most enjoyable, humbling, perplexing and troubling rites of humankind. Looking at the stars gives us the biggest perspective possible and triggers our curiosity, which in turn, creates in us existential anxiety. However still we keep looking at them. We are attracted by the beautiful mystery of the Cosmos. It is our way to try and gain control and reaffirm our own fragile existence and hide our atavistic fear of the unknown. 

Copyright @ 2009 Nancy Barra,"Julia in the Sky", pastel on La Carte paper, 12" x 9", from:Nancy Barra Contemporary Art/Arte Contemporáneo

Now imagine extraterrestrial beings observing our sun from another far away galaxy, millions of light-years away from us. Andromeda, our closest neighbor galaxy is 2.5 millions light-years away from us. If the Andromedans direct a laser beam from one of their nearest stars towards Earth (I do not know why they would do such a thing if they could not see us), it would take 2.5 million years to reach us. 

Imagine that if the Andromedans can see us today, it would be because they activated the laser beam towards Earth 2.5 millions ago, which would coincide with the Earth's early Pleistocene period when hominids lived on the plains of Africa. It would take the laser light 2.5 million years to reach us now as a "Blue Marble" and a supposedly "civilized" human civilization.  

Conversely, we see the Andromeda Galaxy as it was 2.5 millions years ago. Does this galaxy exist today?

Andromeda Galaxy. Credit: GALEX, JPL-CaltechNASA

A sense of magic mixed with science and philosophy happen when we look at the stars: We are seeing them in the past, since it has taken millions of years for their light to reach us in the they were! However, we do not know if they still exist since we are seeing the reflection of their past. So, the only thing we know is that in the "present now" we see the "past" of stars that maybe are already dead. This thought has always amazed me when I look at the stars.

Copyright © 2013 Nancy Barra, "Two Reflections", Cape Ann, Massachusetts.

If everything that we are able to see is defined by the speed of light in space, how much of what we see in the sky is then real? It all seems to come to the perspective we use to perceive reality or as Einstein so wisely put it, everything is relative depending on the point of view of the observer.

Copyright @ 2010 Nancy Barra, "Ocean Wave", pastel on La Carte paper, 
12" x 16", from: Nancy Barra Contemporary Art/Arte Contemporáneo 

In the end, we can zoom in or zoom out our perceptions of reality; we can rotate them up or down, but the arrow of time seems to break down when we look at the stars or they look at us. We, on Earth, like the Porcine Cicovirus or Nanobes virus are also trapped in a 3 dimensional cage, unless we believe that we are souls. We are pure consciousness, temporarily encased in a body, with the purpose  of experiencing the beauty of our Blue Marble, the love between humans and towards our planet. Also, the purpose could be to share among ourselves the mystery and beauty of all that surround us to develop our creativity, imagination, sensitivity and spirituality. Either in the big or small scheme, all this sounds to me  as a magnificent generous gift! What do you think?


  1. Me ha encantado....., ahora entiendo porque me parecia no haberte hallado ultimamente... humm que rico. Por algo somos hermanas y Barra-Tapia nada menos y nada mas. Andamos por los mismos barrios hermana. Un abrazo.

  2. This is very interesting! I found this article very informative and profound. There is a lot that can be learned from the stars! Thank you for your insight and point of view. Te quiero!

  3. Muchas Gracias, Vivi, por tus comentarios. Un abrazo.

  4. Nancy, reading your thoughts is such a journey! Thank you for helping put things into perspective. Our human lives are so fragile and often we can immerse ourselves in such confusion, it is so wonderful to be able to look at things from a more realistic view. Thank you for reminding us of the importance of looking at the stars and realizing that we are only just one small part of this incredible universe

  5. I also want to say how beautifully you weaved in your artwork to illuminate everything that you were saying. I love your paintings!

  6. Beautiful and insightful. Gracias!