Here’s to you, Carl Sagan.

07Nov10

Today, November 6 denotes the celebration of the life and accomplishments of our favorite theoretical physicist, Carl Sagan. I was pretty taken aback when I discovered he has a designated celebratory day, however I’m fairly pleased that he does!

For those of you who may not know Carl Sagan, who he was and what makes him so great I can tell you a little bit about him, and why I think he’s so fabulous. Taken from an online bio published by Center for Inquiry and Center for Skeptical Inquiry:

Carl Sagan was the David Duncan Professor of Astronomy and Space Sciences and Director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies at Cornell University. He was a consultant and adviser to NASA since the 1950’s, briefed the Apollo astronauts before their flights to the Moon, and was an experimenter on the Mariner, Viking, Voyager, and Galileo expeditions to the planets.In addition to many other awards, Dr. Sagan was a recipient of the Public Welfare Medal, the highest award of the National Academy of Sciences, for “distinguished contributions in the application of science to the public welfare…Carl Sagan has been enormously successful in communicating the wonder and importance of science. His ability to capture the imagination of millions and to explain difficult concepts in understandable terms is a magnificent achievement.”

A Pulitzer Prize winner for the book The Dragons of Eden: Speculations of the Evolution of Human Intelligence, Dr. Sagan was the author of many bestsellers, including Demon-Haunted World and Cosmos, which became the bestselling science book ever published in English. He received twenty-two honorary degrees from American colleges and universities for his contributions to science, literature, education, and the preservation of the environment, and many awards for his work on the long-term consequences of nuclear war and reversing the nuclear arms race.

In their posthumous award to Dr. Sagan of their highest honor, the National Science Foundation declared that his “research transformed planetary science… his gifts to mankind were infinite.”

However, my personal relationship with Carl Sagan’s ideas and teachings go a little deeper than a professionally written  biography can express.

Carl Sagan played a crucial role in opening my eyes to the size and awesomeness of this universe. It started with Pale Blue Dot, that put it all into perspective for me. A universe whose size is that which was once incomprehensible to me, was now put into perspective by understanding that we are not some privileged planet that was strategically placed in this universe. The universe does not function to support our planet, we are indeed a Pale Blue Dot, a small stage in a vast cosmic arena.

Prior to knowing who Carl Sagan was, or even caring about much of the type of work he did, I, as a teenager saw the movie Contact. Aside from my childhood romance with Star Trek: The Next Generation, this film totally sparked my interest and fascination with the SciFi genre. But there was a line in the movie about whether or not we were alone in this universe, and it was stated that if we were indeed alone, then it would be an awful waste of space. Yes, I agree. At that point, my mind was not quite able to grasp the universe, its size and how it functions.

Sagan’s COSMOS is one of my favorite television series ever. COSMOS (along with Star Trek: Voyager [coincidentally Carl’s son Nick Sagan has written several episodes in the Star Trek franchise]) is one of my favorite things to have on the tele as I’m drifting to sleep, or playing on the web; his voice and the context are very relaxing. But from an educational standpoint, as I first opened my eyes to the vastness of these cosmos and closed my eyes to the real possibility that a creator of some sort was responsible for my existence on this planet, and that I owed my life (and, in consequence, afterlife) to him / her / it, I was able to quickly grasp that, as Moby puts it, We are all made of Stars.

So, thank you, Carl for being such an influence in my life. Cheers to you, your life, and your legacy.

COSMOS – click here for  your viewing pleasure

Some favorite Sagan quotes:

For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.
Carl Sagan

…If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.
Carl Sagan

Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people.
Carl Sagan

image source here: There Are Four Lights

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