A historic but "humbling" photograph of the solar system taken from deep space showed Earth and its planetary neighbors as mere pinpoints of light in the "velvet blackness of space."

"Astronomy has always been said to be a humbling experience," said astronomer Carl Sagan of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. "I think this picture underscores that point."The 8-by-10-inch black-and-white photograh was taken Feb. 13 by Voyager 1 as the nuclear-powered space probe soared out of the solar system on an endless odyssey after completing a revolutionary exploration of the solar system.

It was released Wednesday.

The photograph, dubbed the "picture of the century" by some astronomers, is a mosaic made up of 60 images taken by Voyager nearly 4 billion miles from Earth and is probably the last image it will ever take.

In the mosaic, which cost about $200,000 to produce, Earth, Venus, Saturn, Neptune and Jupiter appear as tiny points of light arranged around a much larger white sun.

Because of a coincidental technical fluke, Earth appears to be in the midst of a huge sunbeam. Mercury, Mars and Pluto, on the other hand, were not visible from Voyager 1's perspective.

"On that blue dot, that's where everyone you know and everyone you ever heard of and every human being who ever lived lived out their lives," Sagan said at a news conference at NASA head-quarters.

"It's a very small stage in a great cosmic arena. And again, just speaking for myself, I think this perspective underscores our responsibility to preserve and cherish that blue dot, the only home we have," he said.

No other photographs have ever been taken of the solar system from that far away, and no other space probes are planned that could capture such images, said project scientist Edward Stone.

"This was Voyager's last light," said Stone, a scientist from the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif.

Voyager 1 and its companion space probe, Voyager 2, are sailing into deep space, searching for the boundary of the solar system where the million-mile-per-hour solar wind interacts with dust and gas in the interstellar medium.