Maga-
zines need love too!
Boys of Summer: #Boyhood & Rich Hill, are new films about boys in rural America fending for themselves http://t.co/VYAT0vHGqC #movies #film  →
Remembering Carl Sagan on His Birthday: Innovator, Visionary, and Humanitarian Remembering Carl Sagan on His Birthday: Innovator, Visionary, and Humanitarian

Remembering Carl Sagan on His Birthday: Innovator, Visionary, and Humanitarian

by Yasha Wallin
November 12, 2012

Today marks the birthday of Carl Sagan, American astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist, agnostic, marijuana advocate, nuclear cautionary, author, science popularizer, and science communicator.

Brooklyn-born Sagan's achievements were many and started to develop at a young age, with his first inspiration coming from attending the 1939 New York World's Fair with his parents. That experience would go on to spawn a career of exceptional thought output and innovation that are immeasurable—though if he were alive today, he may have found a way to measure them. His contributions were cut short, by his death at 62 years of age from pneumonia.

Sagan assembled the first physical message that was sent into space attached to the antenna of the space probe Pioneer 10 which launched in 1972. The gold plaque featured nude figures of a human male and female with several symbols that detailed information about the origin of the spacecraft. Sagan later went on to create a more elaborate message with the Voyager Golden Record, sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth, sent out with the Voyager space probes in 1977.



He established groundbreaking insights regarding the atmospheres of Venus and Jupiter and seasonal changes on Mars. He also spoke widely about the phenomena of global warming as a growing, man-made danger. He equated it to the natural expansion of Venus into a hot, life-hostile planet through a kind of runaway greenhouse effect.

Sagan's work around searching for extraterrestrial life spawned the popular PBS series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, that he penned as well as the book Contact, which was made into a film after Sagan's death starring Jodi Foster. Sagan was also considered somewhat of a radical in his field, protesting the Vietnam war and later the nuclear arms race, in particular Ronald Reagan's Star Wars program.

When others suggested creating large nuclear bombs that could be used to alter the orbit of a Near Earth Object (NEO) that was predicted to hit the Earth, Sagan proposed what he called the Deflection Dilemma: "If we create the ability to deflect an asteroid away from the Earth, then we also create the ability to deflect an asteroid towards the Earth—providing an evil power with a true doomsday bomb."


But one of Sagan's most touching contributions to the world was the Pale Blue Dot. Captured in 1990 by the Voyager 1, it is a photograph of our planet taken on Sagan's request from a distance of around 4 billion miles from Earth. In it, the Earth appears as a dot (about 0.12 pixels in size) against a backdrop of a vast universe. Sagan wrote extensively about this humbling perspective and the video below is his narration, which put everything in perspective. It's his reminder that all of us Earthlings are really just a spec, a tiny, tiny dot in this ongoing universe—so why not be good to one another?

Photos via Wikimedia Commons

1
Join the discussion
  • This Tree Produces Forty Types of Fruit The living, edible art of Sam Van Aken's grafted stone fruit experiment
    Culture
    Maxwell Williams
  • Dear 14-Year-Old Me The intuitive, emotional side of yourself guides your experiences and shapes how you learn. You grasp information viscerally, which can make traditional schooling a little bit harder for you.
    Lifestyle
    Tiffany Persons
  • Danish Architects Reimagine the Zoo The search for a more ethical wildlife park
    Design
    Caroline Pham
  • Learning to Farm Fish Responsibly Breakthroughs in aquaculture are winning over longtime skeptics.
    Environment
    Kelly McCartney
  • Stories for Boys Sundance-winner Rich Hill picks up where Linklater left off.
    Lifestyle
    Joshua Neuman
  • The Human Side of Spam Spanish photographer Christina de Middel smudges fact and fiction with her staged images of Russian widows and Nigerian lawyers in distress.
    Lifestyle
    Caroline Pham