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On Its Anniversary, a Valentine For Voyager 1’s Pale Blue Dot

Do you have romantic feelings about space? Does the thought of the cosmos send your heart fluttering and set your palms sweating? Good. You’re in the right place.

Valentine’s Day is the anniversary of the so-called Pale Blue Dot photo made famous by Carl Sagan. The image was snapped on February 14, 1990 by the Voyager I space probe at the request of the famed astronomer, and captured a vision of Earth from about 4 billion miles away. At the time, Voyager I was exiting the solar system, and NASA turned the camera around to take one last look at us from a vantage point beyond Neptune.

The suggestion wasn’t exactly a casual one. Some on the imaging team worried that pointing the camera back toward the sun would damage it and prevent future photographs from being taken. The risk ended up being worth it. Just four years later, Sagan released his book Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, which gave the world one of the best known meditations on why space is so endlessly captivating, and why we must treasure our piece of it:

"That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. … It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it 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.”

(If you have time, treat yourself to the entire passage as read by Sagan.)

While the image didn’t carry much in the way of scientific value, the view of our planet as a tiny spec in the vast backdrop of space continues to inspire 26 years later. Voyager I is still out there, now in interstellar space, and still collecting data. As Earth’s farthest traveling man-made object, it’s exploring uncharted territory—places the human race will likely never experience firsthand.

"After taking these images in 1990, we began our interstellar mission. We had no idea how long the spacecraft would last," Ed Stone, a project scientist for the Voyager mission, said in a NASA release. It’s now 38 years and counting.

While the image was initially snapped on February 14, the data was stored in an on-board tape recorder and its transmission to Earth was delayed. NASA didn’t get the collection of 60 photos until a month or more later, when they were sent back at the speed of light. Three of those frames, each taken through a different color filter, showed Earth. They were recombined to create the Pale Blue Dot image. The bands are scattered light rays from the Sun; of the 640,000 pixels in the frame, Earth comprises less than one.

We might not be able to send Voyager 1 a Valentine on the anniversary of one of its most treasured accomplishments, but it’s nice to know that on this day 26 years ago, it made a Valentine for us, and kept it for itself, just for a little while.

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Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism
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The POW Olympics of World War II
Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism
Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism

With the outbreak of World War II prompting a somber and divisive mood across the globe, it seemed impossible civility could be introduced in time for the 1940 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan to be held.

So they weren’t. Neither were the 1944 Games, which were scheduled for London. But one Polish Prisoner of War camp was determined to keep the tradition alive. The Woldenberg Olympics were made up entirely of war captives who wanted—and needed—to feel a sense of camaraderie and normalcy in their most desperate hours.

In a 2004 NBC mini-documentary that aired during their broadcast of the Games, it was reported that Polish officers under German control in the Oflag II-C camp wanted to maintain their physical conditioning as a tribute to Polish athlete Janusz Kusocinski. Unlike another Polish POW camp that held unofficial Games under a veil of secrecy in 1940, the guards of Woldenberg allowed the ’44 event to proceed with the provision that no fencing, archery, javelin, or pole-vaulting competitions took place. (Perhaps the temptation to impale their captors would have proven too much for the men.)

Music, art, and sculptures were put on display. Detainees were also granted permission to make their own program and even commemorative postage stamps of the event courtesy of the camp’s homegrown “post office.” An Olympic flag was crafted out of spare bed sheets, which the German officers, in a show of contagious sportsman’s spirit, actually saluted.

The hand-made Olympic flag from Woldenberg.

Roughly 369 of the 7000 prisoners participated. Most of the men competed in multiple contests, which ranged from handball and basketball to chess. Boxing was included—but owing to the fragile state of prisoners, broken bones resulted in a premature end to the combat.

Almost simultaneously, another Polish POW camp in Gross Born (pop: 3000) was holding their own ceremony. Winners received medals made of cardboard. Both were Oflag sites, which were primarily for officers; it’s been speculated the Games were allowed because German forces had respect for prisoners who held military titles.

A gymnastics demonstration in the camp.

The grass-roots Olympics in both camps took place in July and August 1944. By January 1945, prisoners from each were evacuated. An unknown number perished during these “death marches,” but one of the flags remained in the possession of survivor Antoni Grzesik. The Lieutenant donated it to the Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism in 1974, where it joined a flag recovered from the 1940 Games. Both remain there today—symbols of a sporting life that kept hope alive for thousands of men who, for a brief time, could celebrate life instead of lamenting its loss.

Additional Sources: “The Olympic Idea Transcending War [PDF],” Olympic Review, 1996; “The Olympic Movement Remembered in the Polish Prisoner of War Camps in 1944 [PDF],” Journal of Olympic History, Spring 1995; "Olympics Behind Barbed Wire," Journal of Olympic History, March 2014.

 All images courtesy of Warsaw Museum of Sport and Tourism. 

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President John Tyler's Grandsons Are Still Alive
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Getty Images

Here's the most amazing thing you'll ever read about our 10th president:

John Tyler was born in 1790. He took office in 1841, after William Henry Harrison died. And he has two living grandchildren.

Not great-great-great-grandchildren. Their dad was Tyler’s son.

How is this possible?

The Tyler men have a habit of having kids very late in life. Lyon Gardiner Tyler, one of President Tyler’s 15 kids, was born in 1853. He fathered Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr. in 1924, and Harrison Ruffin Tyler in 1928.

We placed a somewhat awkward call to the Charles City County History Center in Virginia to check in on the Tylers.

After we shared this fact on Twitter in 2012, Dan Amira interviewed Harrison Tyler for New York Magazine. Lyon Tyler spoke to the Daughters of the American Revolution a while back. They were profiled by The Times of London. And Snopes is also in on the fact.

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