Thirty years ago today, the Voyager 1 spaceprobe had completed its ncounters with the outer planets and was careening out of our solar system. The time came to shut off the probes' cameras to preserve power and memory for the other onboard scientific instruments. But before engineers flipped the switch, one last photo opportunity was not to be missed. From my liner notes to the Voyager Golden Record vinyl box set:
Astronomer and educator Carl Sagan, a member of the Voyager Imaging Team, had persuaded NASA engineers to turn Voyager 1’s cameras back toward the sun and take the first-ever portrait of our solar system from beyond its outer boundary. Sixty frames, taken on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1990, were combined into a single mosaic, known today as the “Solar System Portrait,” albeit with Mars and Mercury lost in the sun’s glare. Centered in a ray of scattered light in the camera’s optics is a tiny speck, just .12 pixels in size: Earth from 6 billion kilometers away—a “pale blue dot,” as Sagan called it. It’s an iconic image that holds the power to shift our perspective in an instant.
“There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world,” Sagan wrote in Pale Blue Dot (1994). “To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
Please join us in celebrating Carl Sagan's valentine to humanity:
Read the rest
Yesterday, a satellite smaller than a shoebox unfurled a solar sail making it the first spacecraft to orbit the Earth powered by sunlight. LightSail2 is a project of the Planetary Society, a fantastic nonprofit organization co-founded by astronomer and science educator Carl Sagan. From the New York Times:
Read the rest
For centuries, it was only a dream: traveling through space propelled by the sun’s photons. It was first imagined in the 1600s by Johannes Kepler, the German astronomer who described the laws of the planets’ orbits. In 1964, Arthur C. Clarke moved it into the realm of science fiction in “Sunjammer,” a short story. Carl Sagan, the cosmologist, believed it could be more than a speculative fantasy, and in the 1970s began promoting the building of solar sails for space exploration.
After 10 years of planning and over 40,000 private donations worth $7 million, that idea took flight on Tuesday, as LightSail 2, a spacecraft built for the Planetary Society, co-founded by Mr. Sagan, began what its creators hope will be a year of sailing around Earth.
“This is still one of the most feasible pathways to have real interstellar space travel in the future,” said Sasha Sagan, a writer as well as the daughter of the astronomer.
If it succeeds in its mission, it will contribute to overcoming one of the greatest limitations on the outer bounds of space travel — that the power that steers spacecraft, usually hydrazine fuel, eventually runs out.
In 1977, just a few months after Voyager 1 and 2 began their grand tour of the solar system, Carl Sagan gave the esteemed Christmas Lectures at the Royal Institution of Great Britain. You can watch them below via YouTube or at the Read the rest
The Pale Blue Dot was made as a tribute to Carl Sagan "as the final project for the Animation 01 course at Ringling College of Art and Design." Read the rest
Apple released this lovely new commercial featuring Carl Sagan reading from his magnificent 1994 book Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, now available as an audiobook. This surprising partnership spurred Adweek to interview my friend Ann Druyan, Sagan's wife, collaborator, and creative director of the Voyager Golden Record, about being the "keeper of (Carl's) flame," her own work, and the politics of science. As always, Annie is profoundly eloquent and inspiring. From Adweek:
Read the rest
It feels like science has been so embattled recently, that just being a scientist, just advocating for science has become a political stance in a way that it wouldn’t have been, say, six years ago.
That’s a really good point, but it’s also true there are perturbations. The pendulum swings back and forth.There are moments when science is considered heroic.
A good example from my point of view is that I was completely opposed to the war against Vietnam and to the institutional and social racism of the 1960s and generally America’s conduct throughout the world, and yet when we landed on the moon, I was proud to be an American. Even though I knew how complicated the road to the moon had been in terms of international politics and competition in the nuclear arms race, I thought this mythic accomplishment was something that really spoke well of us. It was a rare moment for human self-esteem and American self-esteem at that time.
Think back to the 1920s and Charles Darwin on trial, and you can say it was really a political statement to believe in modern biology and be a biologist at that time.
"A literal reading of the Bible simply is a mistake; I mean it’s just wrong," Sagan told Studs Terkel in 1985. (Blank on Blank)
Read the rest
In celebration of the new Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, Joel Achenbach wrote a feature for Smithsonian about Carl Sagan's enduring impact on the popularization of science. Achenbach visited the recently-available Sagan archive at the Library of Congress and highlighted some great bits, including details of Sagan and astronomer Frank Drake's 1974 visit with bOING bOING patron saint Timothy Leary while Tim was incarcerated. Sagan had enjoyed Tim's excellent (and now scarce) book Terra II, a philosophical manual for space migration. Read the rest