For a counterpart from across the precipice between the pre-scientific and scientific worlds, see French artist and astronomer Étienne Léopold Trouvelot’s stunning astronomical drawings created three centuries later at the Harvard Observatory, then let Sagan and Druyan take us out:
Comets may act as the creators, the preservers, and the destroyers of life on Earth. A surviving dinosaur might have reason to mistrust them, but humans might more appropriately consider the comets in a favorable light—as bringers of the stuff of life to Earth, as ocean-builders, as the agency that removed the competition and made possible the success of our mammalian ancestors, as possible future outposts of our species, and as providers of a timely reminder about large explosions and the climate of the Earth.
A comet is also a visitor from the frigid interstellar night that constitutes by far the greatest part of the known universe. And a comet is, further, a great clock, ticking out decades or geological ages once each perihelion passage, reminding us of the beauty and harmony of the Newtonian universe, and of the daunting insignificance of our place in space and time. If, by chance, the period of a bright comet happens to be the same as a human lifetime, we invest it with a more personal significance. It reminds us of our mortality.
Public domain images courtesy of Open Repository Kassel