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A sobering moment from space

NASA

The northeastern U.S., including Connecticut and Massachusetts' Cape Cod, are seen in a photo taken on the International Space Station on June 27, 2011.



From a cosmic perspective, our planet has a peaceful beauty — no matter what tumult is raging far below. That's the message NASA astronaut Ron Garan wanted to send with this picture of the northeastern United States. Today, if you could zoom in far enough on this view today, you could see the anguish left behind in the wake of Friday's horrible school shooting in Connecticut.

"When we look at Earth from space, we are faced with a sobering contradiction," Garan writes on his Google+ page. "On the one hand is the beauty of our planet, on the other is the unfortunate reality of life on our planet for many of her inhabitants. Our prayers are with the victims and families in Connecticut. #LoveConquersAll"

You can count on Garan to bring a wider-angle view to whatever is happening here on Earth. He spent five months aboard the International Space Station last year, and since he returned, he has been sharing the glories of our blue planet via Google+ as well as Twitter, Facebook and the Fragile Oasis website. This particular picture was snapped from the space station during Garan's stint in orbit. To learn more about the image, check in with NASA's Earth Observatory or the Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth.

Garan wasn't the first human to reflect on the cosmic perspective produced by outer-space views: Astronauts and philosophers have long talked about the "Overview Effect," the sense of planetary unity that arises when you see Earth as an object suspended in space. Just this month, a group known as Planetary Collective unveiled an online video documentary exploring the phenomenon.

And then there's Carl Sagan, the famous astronomer and writer who passed away 16 years ago this month. He helped persuade NASA to turn the camera on its Voyager 1 deep-space probe back toward Earth in 1990, to capture a priceless picture of our "pale blue dot" as a speck in outer space.

"There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world," Sagan wrote. "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."

Amen.

You can watch a video about the pale blue dot, or a brand-new animation that brings Sagan's words to life. These sobering moments from space serve as today's offering from the Cosmic Log Space Advent Calendar, which highlights views of our planet every day from now until Christmas. Click on the links below for more moments:


Alan Boyle is NBCNews.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding the Cosmic Log page to your Google+ presence. To keep up with Cosmic Log as well as NBCNews.com's other science and space news coverage, sign up for the Tech & Science newsletter, delivered via email. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about dwarf planets and the search for new worlds.