Happy Carl Sagan Day!

By Phil Plait | November 6, 2010 7:00 am

November 9 is the 76th anniversary of Carl Sagan’s birth, and is celebrated across the globe as Carl Sagan Day (in general, places that celebrate the day do so on the Saturday previous; so, today!). He did more to bring the wonders of the Universe to the world than any other human being, alive or otherwise, and this day should be a holiday.

In honor of that, I present to you my friend Sara Mayhew’s idea of what she plans to do:


Sounds like a good idea to me. If you’re curious about the apple pie thing, try here. It’s Sagan’s best quote, hands down.

I attended a Carl Sagan Day last year in Broward County, Florida and wrote about the experience. Everything I need to say about Carl and his influence is there, so go read it. Also, that same group in Broward is holding an event this year which will be streamed live.

The world may be a poorer place without him, but it’s much, much better place for having had him once in it.

Related posts:

The Unbroken Thread
Brian Cox talks about Carl Sagan
Scientific Valentines
Fine autotuning the Universe

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Cool stuff, Piece of mind

Comments (59)

  1. Kevin

    I can make the pie, but I don’t drink alcohol.

    But I will be watching Contact and then a Cosmos marathon today.

  2. Ingo

    Unfortunately, in Germany, Nov 9th stands for a whole lot of other anniversaries good (fall of Berlin Wall) and bad (Reichsprogramnacht, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kristallnacht)…

  3. Prophet Zarquon

    *Picks up Cosmos dvd-box*
    Why, I do think I’ll celebrate. Carl Sagan was one of those very rare people, a good teacher. Not many people share his talent for making the universe sound like the awe-inspiring, exciting place it is – and for showing that science is vital to that understanding.

  4. Ross

    Carl Sagan and Richard Feynman are two of my heroes. In my opinion http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pale_Blue_Dot#Reflections_by_Sagan is one of the most profound things ever written.

  5. Magnus

    I will be doing a Cosmos marathon tomorrow. Today ill salute Carl by enjoying the saturday night sky with Mr.X, good company and hopefully apple pie :) Happy Carl Sagan Day everyone!

  6. ntsc

    ” He did more to bring the wonders of the Universe to the world than any other human being, alive or otherwise, and this day should be a holiday.”

    Don’t happen to agree with that in detail, although in spirit yes.

    I would go with Asimov or the host of the Bell Laboratory science show. The books and that show held my attention in the 50s early 60s.

    And it is going to be onion soup from scratch, although all the work is long since done, just assemble and heat.

  7. Dave

    Well I’ll be. I guess I never knew I share Carl’s birthday. I wish I could have met the man, or at least here him speak in person.

  8. fred edison

    ‘A Glorious Dawn.’ Excellent.

    This may come up, as it usually seems to, so I’ll make a quick note. Carl didn’t say “billions and billions,” that phrase was invented by Johnny Carson for one of his comedy skits (Carl was a frequent and welcome guest on his show). Ann Druyan made the clarification (one of many I assume) on a radio program I was listening to one night. But as long as something helped the public to become more interested in the wonders of nature and the universe (multiverse?), and to appreciate what an intricate and delicate balance runs through it all, I’m pretty sure that it would have been fine with Carl.

    Much respect to his memory as a scientist and outstanding communicator, and to Ann who loved the man.

  9. @fred (#4): He finally relented though:

    I never said it. Honest. Oh, I said there are maybe 100 billion galaxies and 10 billion trillion stars. It’s hard to talk about the Cosmos without using big numbers. I said ‘billion’ many times on the Cosmos television series, which was seen by a great many people. But I never said ‘billions and billions.’ For one thing, it’s imprecise. How many billions are ‘billions and billions’? A few billion? Twenty billion? A hundred billion? ‘Billions and billions’ is pretty vague… For a while, out of childish pique, I wouldn’t utter the phrase, even when asked to. But I’ve gotten over that. So, for the record, here it goes: ‘Billions and billions.’

    Heck, he said it a few times in that quote. 😉

    And if someone wants his quotes, here is a nice list of them: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Carl_Sagan

    Some of my favorites:

    The truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to grapple with. It may be counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But our preferences do not determine what’s true. We have a method, and that method helps us to reach not absolute truth, only asymptotic approaches to the truth — never there, just closer and closer, always finding vast new oceans of undiscovered possibilities. Cleverly designed experiments are the key.

    I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking.
    The world is so exquisite with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there’s little good evidence. Far better it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides.

    In science it often happens that scientists say, “You know that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,” and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion.

    You can’t convince a believer of anything; for their belief is not based on evidence, it’s based on a deep seated need to believe.

    A celibate clergy is an especially good idea, because it tends to suppress any hereditary propensity toward fanaticism.

    Consider again 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.
    Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe:, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
    The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
    It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. 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.

    How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, ‘This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant?’ Instead they say, ‘No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.’ A religion old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science, might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.

    Just a couple of my favorites.

  10. Andy

    I think you mean November 6th. Right?

  11. Zucchi

    Larian, that’s the passage I was going to quote. It’s a shame that even if you tied up somebody like, say, Pat Robertson, and forced him to read it, then withheld food until he could give you a precis of its meaning — he’d still come away from it a tiny-minded, delusional, mean-spirited little fanatic, impervious to any kind of new information.

    Some people will always be that way because it serves a need for them — but we can keep trying to reach the new generations.

  12. Jamey

    I will give you that he was an awesome writer and popularizer (though I prefer John Gribbin’s books, in general) However, I’m unable to really evaluate his work as an *astronomer*. Reading over the Wikipedia article, he seems to have been mostly a planetary climatologist, with a lot of philosophical analysis on the side.

    I do have to credit him with one idea that I have found rather amazing and somewhat prophetic – the idea that the proof of a God’s existence (though the line blurs somewhat in what he was talking about, considering we are on the verge of creating universes ourselves [of much lower scale and complexity, but …]) lies in a non-random sequence of digits buried deep in one of the transcendental numbers, or perhaps one of the dimensionless constants. Oddities like e ^ (pi * i) = -1, and the fact that any particular digit of pi can be calculated without reference to the other digits in binary, suggest that maybe he was onto something.

  13. Naomi

    Hm… I’ll be at uni all day on the 9th (two midterms and a ten-page term paper draft to turn in, too… aaii). But I think I can squeeze in a couple of my favourite episodes of Cosmos when I get home that night… ten and thirteen, perhaps. (I’ve seen the fourth dimension scene in episode ten so many times I can quote it from memory!)

    Jamey @ 12,

    Do you mean to say that planetary science isn’t actually astronomy? Because I definitely think that determining the temperature from the greenhouse effect on Venus, and dust storms on Mars, and the make-up of organic compounds in Titan’s atmosphere, definitely count as astronomy! What else would you call it?

  14. Jeff

    His book “The Cosmic Connection” is still in my view the greatest popular science book ever written. It was “scientific peotry” if such a thing can exist.

  15. pastanoodle

    I’ll set up my vaporiser with a nice sinsemilla and watch Cosmos, which I just bought on DVD. I’m sure he’d approve :-)

  16. Pete Jackson

    Here is the intro to Cosmos:


    I just got goose bumps all over seeing and hearing this. A nostalgia trip back to a more innocent time in my life and in the life of our civilization.

  17. Elmar_M

    Carl Sagan is indirectly responsible for me and my wife meeting. He was my childhood hero and I still love watching Cosmos today (my wife bought be the DVD- Box- Set for my birthday last year). Brilliant man, that died way to early. I miss him dearly.
    Happy Carl Sagan day!

  18. Jamey

    No, not saying planetary climatology isn’t a part of astronomy – it’s a specialty within astronomy. Just as stellar cartography, galactic astronomy, and cosmology are all specialties in astronomy. What I was saying is that I’m not qualified to actually evaluate how worth-while his contributions in this field is.

  19. Chief

    When I’m doing something around the house or working in the shop, I’ll put on Cosmos and listen to it (via wireless headphones) while I work. I wonder if a release of a Blueray copy of Cosmos will be released, the graphics of the show really need to shine through.

    In reference to the episode with the invention of the universe to make a pie from scratch, anyone else bothered due to Sagan cutting a pie with a pie cutter that looks like it couldn’t even cut a twinkie being so dull. No way to get down to individual atoms with that cutter.

    btw. I think the lady in the pic should switch to a Pale Blue Dot and stay off the liquid cosmos.

  20. Sadly, Carl Sagan Day has put me in mind of how far we should have come since the debut of Cosmos, and how far we have actually fallen since then.

    I look around at my generation, the generation that was nursed on Mr. Rogers, and received our pre-schooling from Sesame Street and The Electric Company, and had exposure to Cosmos before we were teens, and I see how prevalent anti-intellectualism and anti-science attitudes are among that generation and society in general, and see how much worse things will get in the coming years, and see how the greatest accomplishments of communications technology have been perverted to spread disinformation and supply mindless diversions, and it’s pretty hard not to feel despair – the same despair that Carl Sagan felt when he observed that Dumb and Dumber was the most popular movie at the time he was writing one of his last books. Sometimes I’m glad he didn’t live to see where we’ve brought ourselves.

  21. Robin

    Thanks to Carl Sagan, I have fond memories of my family gathering to watch the latest episode of Cosmos and our later explorations of the night sky with our first 6″f8 Newtonian or seeing dad’s blood cells in a microscope. My kids, now in their late thirties, have never forgotten the gifts that Dr Sagan bestowed.

    I believe Carl’s book, The Demon-Haunted World ~ Science As A Candle In The Dark, should be required reading by all high school students but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this great book was banned in some state’s school libraries.

  22. Grand Lunar

    I feel that I was born too late to appreciate Cosmos; I wasn’t a teen until the 1990s. Mostly was raised on ST:TNG and “Bill Nye”. Better than nothing.

    The Symphony of Science series offers a great glimpse at Sagan, IMO.
    Was the main way I knew of the apple pie reference.

    It would be great if today’s generation was exposed to Cosmos again, instead of ghost hunting, pychics, ect.

  23. TomF

    “It’s a shame that even if you tied up somebody like, say, Pat Robertson, and forced him to read it, then withheld food until he could give you a precis of its meaning”

    I imagine it would be a bit like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BlpyGhABXRA

  24. Personal SinR

    WAIT A MINUTE! Today is Nov. 6th… Why are we celebrating his birthday, which is on the 9th, today? I’m so confused!

  25. Jeremy

    Perhaps this is a good place to ask how Cosmos has held up, as far as the science within becoming outdated. I’m sure the presentation is still brilliant, but if you showed it to an astronomy class today would you then have to spend the next two lectures correcting things?

  26. Via Media

    Surprised it hasn’t been highlighted here yet… but one of the antitheses of Carl Sagan has claimed the Science and Technology Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives:


    Doctor Sagan would be appalled…

  27. ad

    Everyone should light up a joint in his honor!

  28. Jamie

    @ Jeremy 25
    The amazing thing about cosmos is that is still holds up! There will be a few number which we now know more accurately but for the most part the show is still very very relevant.

    Thanks to Carl for all the inspiration. I’m studying towards an astro degree from February and couldn’t be more excited!

  29. Todd Boughn

    Happy birthday, Dr. Sagan. Thank you for helping to open my eyes.

  30. Jason

    This video has been making the rounds. It isn’t by Carl, but I believe he would wholeheartedly approve.


  31. Perfunctory disclaimer for Phil’s Hive Overmind masters:

    Phil has no knowledge of what I am about to post. I am doing this as a regular reader/contributor to his blog and no infringement of any contracts he may have with you is intended.

    Now then.

    If you would like to work on a new science series with the producer who made “Cosmos,” “Connections” with James Burke, “Hal’s Legacy” and others, please contact me at jhagerty@juno.com.

    – Jack

  32. Happy Carl Sagan Day to all the starstuff out there who can read this!

  33. Jack Mitcham

    I’ll have to wear my “100% Star Stuff” shirt on the 9th. Carl Sagan is the reason I’m a physics undergrad at the moment. I watched Cosmos as a kid, and I recently rediscovered Sagan a few years ago. I decided to enroll in an Astronomy 101 class at a community college after watching some clips of Cosmos (as well as some other videos, such as Pale Blue Dot) back in Fall 2008.

    I’m now a 3rd year physics student with aspirations to get a Ph.D in physics. Thanks, Carl.

  34. Could it be any more coincidental that the COSMOS satellite was launched yesterday?


    – Jack

  35. Geomaniac

    Carl Sagan was the best. His book ‘Cosmic Connection’ got me interested in science and the Universe. He died too soon but I am glad that we had him as long as we did. His presence is missed every day.

    Phil I do have to say though that today you are the closest thing we have to Carl Sagan and for that I am glad. Please continue his tradition of helping us keep the demons at bay.

  36. Anchor

    Carl once declared Isaac Asimov as “The greatest explainer of the age.” But Carl himself was the undisputed champion of inspiring people and instilling in them an appreciation of science and the universe we all live in. I dearly miss him.

    [Ugh, I’m sorry, but I have to say I can’t help but wince at that hideously stylized cartoon. Surely Carl’s memory would have been better served by something at least slightly more tasteful and dignified.]

  37. Pete Jackson

    Taste, Anchor, is a matter of taste, but it seems that Manga art is the in thing these days.

    But without this cartoon, I would never have known about Sara Mayhew, a fellow Canuck!


    Look down her blog to Sept 14th, and see if you like that better!

  38. Stu

    There’s a real “Sagan party” going on over at the Kepler mission website…


    Celebrations include an essay competition, which has produced some truly excellent entries, and lots of contributions from special guest writers, too.

  39. Jeremy

    Now now Anchor, it’s remarkable the poor thing can maintain a blog at all considering her condition. With eyes a third the size of her head, no nose at all, and those worrying tumors on her cheeks, she must surely be in constant discomfort. We shouldn’t make fun of the handicapped…

  40. I went to the Carl Sagan Day festivities today. Hal Bidlack was is usual funny self. I particularly liked his quip that James Randi had accused him of engaging in homeopathic humor. The other presenters were quite good. I learned a lot about the goings on at NASA and SETI, among other things. Turnout was about 75-100, I’d guess.

    I missed Randi’s talk at the end of the day as I was engaged in a long conversation with a man outside who was trying to persuade me that there was no evidence for evolution and the Bible is true. He gave me a couple of Kent Hovind DVDs (which I am going to watch). The conversation was too rich for me to pass up. It was an opportunity for outreach 😉

  41. Sagan Day was just amazing. I’m so honored to have been able to help celebrate such a great man, and one who’s work was so influential both on my career path, and my path to skepticism. :-)

  42. Carl Sagan inspired me to learn more about the universe in which I live and to appreciate this precious planet we call home.

  43. Alan

    In case people haven’t seen this (I hadn’t before yesterday), here’s Neil DeGrasse Tyson talking about meeting Sagan when Tyson was choosing a college:


    And another random person from the internet with a nice story about meeting him:


  44. Sam

    A great icon to humanity, I have learnt so much from this man and continue to do so. RIP


  45. A Brilliant man, has done so much for the public understanding of science. We miss you Carl.

  46. Guillermo

    I have to thank you for sharing that link, I listened to all the symphony of science songs, great stuff!

  47. Nicole, thanks for your presentation. I enjoyed it very much. Keep listening to the light.

  48. Utakata

    A yuri-Sagan! O.O

    …I would of done a chibi-Sagan myself. :)

  49. Paul

    Anybody irked by the God-infused COSMOS like program narrated by Morgan Freeman?

    I suppose I should be celebrating this day, but I feel more depressed about the state of our world.

    I didn’t really know about COSMOS or really even Carl Sagan, until I followed a trail of crumbs leading me to his incredible program.

    COSMOS, and some of Carl’s books should definitely be required material for any student.

    I’m still blown away that the ideas in this 30 some year old series are, frankly, almost unheard of outside of a science class, and that it addresses so many modern day problems.

    People need education.

    These are my disjointed thoughts.

  50. Captn Tommy

    Billions + billions = 1 Sagan

    A long time ago in a magazine editorial I read this equation which has stuck with me forever. I am passing it on to you all as a rememberance of a great man with a quiet voice.

    A Sagan load of inspiration, and Bill’-e-ons and Bill’-e-ons of thanks.

    May your dandilion of space take you, to where yuor imagination took us.

    Captn Tommy

  51. mike burkhart

    When the astronomers hall of fame is built I think Carl Sagan should be amonge its frist inductes . Sorry Phil you will have to wate untill you you retire to be Inducted , but your two books will be on sale in the gift store . I don’t whish to be inducted however observing the wonders of the universe is its own reward .

  52. Danielle

    This website: http://www.carlsaganday.com says that it was on the 6th! Which day is correct?

  53. Elizabeth Swigar

    I did not know this. Happy Carl Sagan day!

  54. Gordon

    I would love to make an apple pie from scratch, but I can’t! I would have to first INVENT THE UNIVERSE! : )


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