The late Carl Sagan was an accomplished author, educator, astronomer, cosmologist, astrophysicist and astrobiologist, but several generations know him best as one of the greatest science communicators ever.
Whether it was through his best-selling books or popular television series, Cosmos, Sagan shared his infectious passion for science and brought the mysteries and wonder of the universe to the average person before he died in 1996.
Looking at a photo of Earth that had been taken from a distance of about 6 billion kilometers by the Voyager I space probe, Sagan noticed that our planet, surrounded by the vastness of space, looked like a tiny pale blue dot.
After looking at that pixel sized pale blue dot, Sagan reflected on what that image meant to him.
“Look again at that dot. 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. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam,” Carl Sagan from his 1994 book Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space.
Carl Sagan spent a good portion of his professional life at as a professor of astronomy at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. He also served as the director of the school’s Laboratory for Planetary Studies.
On Saturday, May 9, Cornell University remembered their late colleague by naming a research institute at the school in his honor.
Called the Carl Sagan Institute: Pale Blue Dot and Beyond, this new organization, according to Cornell officials, will be dedicated to the exploration of other worlds and to search for life beyond Earth.
Established last year, the institute brings together astrophysicists, geologists, biologists, engineers and scientists from other disciplines to search for signs of life throughout the cosmos.
Cornell officials said that research conducted at the Carl Sagan Institute will focus on planets within our own solar system, including Earth, as well those beyond our cosmic neighborhood.
The institute will also be home to a colorful catalog of life forms, which is actually a newly created database that contains what has been described as the color reflection signatures of Earth life forms that might also be found on other planets throughout the universe.
It’s hoped that the catalog will help scientists identify a wide range of signatures of life on other worlds.
Sagan was the best scientist and writer. His interest and enthusiasm for surrounding world were neverending. My favorite books are “Cosmos” and “Contact”.
A fitting tribute. I read some of his books (Billions and Billions, the Varieties of scientific experience, the Dragons of Eden) and watched Cosmos several times. There is so much poetry in that series.
I would have liked to meet him.
I would love to see a rerun of the original Cosmos series again. I wonder why it hasn’t been done…or have I missed it?
Rick Pantaleo is my favorite science writer.
Note from Rick Pantaleo: Thanks so much for the kind words!
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