Carl Sagan – A Bright Spot In The Pale Blue Dot

There were times when science was not this popular and nerds didn’t rule the world. If everyone has a basic knowledge on the science of the whole world the credit for it goes to one of the world’s greatest scientist and gatherer of knowledge – Carl Sagan !

carl sagan

Image Source: boingboing.net

Carl sagan was born in Brooklyn, New York to Samuel Sagan and Rachel Molly Gruber. His father was an immigrant garment worker from today’s Ukraine and his mother was a housewife.  H had a sister Carol and the family lived in Bensonhurst, New York.

His biographers have always mentioned that the “inner wars” was because of his close relationship with his parents who in many ways “opposites”. Their talks of trying to come to a decision by carefully understanding each other by seriously analysing ach situation has what given him his “inquisitiveness” and thereby the pull towards science. In his own words,

“My parents were not scientists. They knew almost nothing about science. But by introducing me simultaneously to scepticism and to wonder, they taught me the two uneasily cohabiting modes of thought that are central to the scientific method.”

His inquisitiveness of nature began quite early, at the age of five he used go alone to public libraries to read about stars as no one his parents or friends could explain to him about stars. He quotes,

“I went to the librarian and asked for a book about stars … And the answer was stunning. It was that the Sun was a star but really close. The stars were suns, but so far away they were just little points of light … The scale of the universe suddenly opened up to me. It was a kind of religious experience. There was a magnificence to it, a grandeur, a scale which has never left me. Never ever left me”

Sagan was a straight-A student but was bored due to unchallenging classes and uninspiring teachers. His teachers realized this and tried to convince his parents to send him to a private school, the administrator telling them, “This kid ought to go to a school for gifted children, he has something really remarkable.” This they couldn’t do, partly because of the cost.

Sagan was made president of the school’s chemistry club, and at home he set up his own laboratory. He taught himself about molecules by making cardboard cutouts to help him visualize how molecules were formed: “I found that about as interesting as doing [chemical] experiments,” he said. Sagan remained mostly interested in astronomy as a hobby, and in his junior year made it a career goal after he learned that astronomers were paid for doing what he always enjoyed: “That was a splendid day­­­­—when I began to suspect that if I tried hard I could do astronomy full-time, not just part-time.”

Before the end of high school, he entered an essay contest in which he posed the question of whether human contact with advanced life forms from another planet might be as disastrous for people on Earth as it was for native Americans when they first had contact with Europeans. The subject was considered controversial, but his rhetorical skill won over the judges and they awarded him first prize. By graduation, his classmates had voted him “Most likely to succeed,” and put him in line to be valedictorian.

Sagan graduated high school in 1951 at age 16 and headed to the University of Chicago, where experiments he conducted drove his fascination with the possibility of alien life. In 1955 Sagan graduated with a BA in physics, and he took his master’s a year later. Four years later, Sagan moved to California after obtaining a PhD in astronomy and astrophysics, landing at the University of California, Berkeley, as a fellow in astronomy. There, he helped a team develop an infrared radiometer for NASA’s Mariner 2 robotic probe.

His works with NASA

The 1960s found Sagan at Harvard University and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, where his work centered on the physical conditions of the planets, particularly those of Venus and Jupiter. In 1968 Sagan became the director of Cornell University’s Laboratory for Planetary Studies, and three years later he became a full professor. Working again with NASA, Sagan helped choose where the Viking probes would touch down on Mars and helped craft the messages from Earth that were sent out with the Pioneer and Voyager probes sent beyond our solar system.

The celebrity scientist

Decades before Kip Thorne helped Christopher Nolan make a legend out of Interstellar, there was another “Gargantuan” that kick-started many of the young minds at that time to take up science as their passion (even if i was not born around that i am very proud to say my passion into the ‘fringe science’ comes from this movie). It was a small movie called “2001: A Space Odyssey”. Many can argue that this is the first movie that popularised the sciences of time travel and multiple-dimensions and other intelligent beings apart from us in the vast universe. We could very well be the dumbest of the living organisms out there.

Related Read: How Sci Fi Movies Showcased Modern Day Technologies Much Before Popular Adoption !

In the 1970s and 1980s, Sagan was the most well-known scientist in the United States, helped in no small part by the books he wrote. Works such as The Cosmic Connection: An Extraterrestrial Perspective (1973), Other Worlds (1975), The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence (1977; Pulitzer Prize winner) and his 1985 novel, Contact (made into a film starring Jodie Foster in 1997), all grabbed the attention of the scientific community and general audiences.

No one who has lived till now has ever told the bewildered story of the ‘space’ we live in with absolute glory and childish enthusiasm as Sagan had in the world renowned series that made science cool and scientists out of the little geniuses who didn’t know they were doing the right thing or not but just wanted to know as much as the person who is talking on the television. He led a very full life with so much knowledge enough for three normal people at least. He also juggled across multiple careers as on full was not enough for his quest for a fulfilled life.

No ode to the master of smart talk can end without his monologue,

A Pale Blue Dot – Image Courtesy: comze.com

“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.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.”

Here is a video of the legend !

Also Read: Do You Know Enough About Stephen Hawking – The Smartest Man On Earth !

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