One of my favorite quotations of all time is by Carl Sagan: "If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the Universe." The poetry and lyrical nature of that line are wonderful, and the sentiment… well. He was exactly right. Sagan was one of many people who influenced me, and of course so many of us who promote astronomy to the public owe our careers to him.
That’s why I was so pleased when I found that Kenley Kristofferson, a music teacher and composer in Canada, wrote a lovely choral suite in three movements based on Carl Sagan’s words! He has put all three on Sound Cloud, so you can listen to them for free. Each uses quotations from Sagan and weaves them into a tale of discovery, beauty, and astronomy. They’re performed beautifully by the Antiphony Music Ensemble, a group of ten young singers from Winnipeg. On his website Kristofferson has the three movements downloadable as MP3s, and also has the lyrics written out as well.
This is a very pretty piece, and I hope some choral teachers out there pick it up and perform it. I think it sends a great message, and it does so in a beautiful way.
Addendum: Producer/writer/actor Seth MacFarlane — yes, from "Family Guy" — helped the Library of Congress acquire Sagan’s personal papers. MacFarlane is a science nut, and as you may already know, is working with Neil Tyson to update and bring Sagan’s "Cosmos" back to the TV. I think this is great, and it’s fantastic to know that there are folks out there like MacFarlane willing to put their money where their brain is. Good on him.
Tip o’ the elbow patch to the wonderfully named blog It’s OK to be Smart.
I’m a big fan of Carl Sagan… of course. His books are simply amazing, and they are all worth your time reading. He had a way with words that made them not just profound, not just inspiring, but also warm and rich and enveloping.
He was a dreamer, an optimist, willing to look beyond the immediate problems we have now and see a better future, if only we could change our ways just a little bit.
I’m not the only person he affected. Zen Pencils, the nom de plume of young artist Gavin Aung Than, has been drawing web comics based on the words of wise people. He sent me a note via Twitter that he had one based on something Sagan said:
Click it to see the whole thing. Sagan’s words are wonderful, of course, but I like the added dimension Than has given them. You should check out the Zen Pencil archives to see what else he did, too, and you can also follow him on Twitter.
If Carl Sagan were still alive, he’d be 77 years old today. Perhaps he wouldn’t have been overly concerned with arbitrary time measurements, especially when based on the fickle way we define a "year", but it’s human nature to look back at such integrally-divisible dates… and Carl was very much a student of human nature.
I’ve written about him so much in the past there’s not much I can add right now, so I thought I would simply embed a video for you to watch… but which one? Where James Randi eloquently and emotionally talks about his friendship with Carl? Or the wonderful first installment of Symphony of Science using my favorite quote by Carl? Or this amazing speech about how life seeks life?
But in the end, the choice is obvious. Carl Sagan’s essay, "Pale Blue Dot", will, I think, stand the test of time, and will deservedly be considered one of the greatest passages ever written in the English language.
Happy birthday to Doctor Carl Sagan, Professor of Astronomy, scientist, skeptic, muse, and – though he may not have thought of himself this way — poet.
I’ll leave you with this, something I wrote abut Carl a while back, when asked about what his greatest legacy is:
Sagan’s insight, his gift to us, is the knowledge that we all have the ability to examine the Universe with all the power of human curiosity, and we need not retreat from the answers we find.
So I went to a Greek festival last weekend, and ate a ton of really good food. It was outside, with lots of tents set up with different cuisine, and one of them made me smile. I took the picture here, and tweeted this: "At a Greek festival, where they’re serving spicy grilled astrophysicist," linking to the picture.
I got a good response, since my readers are geeks like me. One of them happened to be SMBC web comic artist Zach Weiner, who was inspired by my Hellenic humor. He then created the picture below, showing a famous astronomer whose first name is Percival, and whose last name you can probably figure out.
I don’t know how funny he was, but he helped discover Pluto, so there’s that.
And yes, I LOLed. Zach and I are both much dorks.
Carl Sagan revolutionized popular astronomy with his book and TV show "Cosmos", which had an audience of hundreds of millions of people. We’ve learned a lot about our Universe since then, and we’re overdue for a modern version of Sagan’s show. So I’m pleased to find out that Neil Tyson will be hosting a revamped and updated version of "Cosmos"!
He’s working with Ann Druyan (Sagan’s widow and herself a science popularizer), Steve Soter (who also worked on the original show), and Seth MacFarlane, creator of "Family Guy". I know, that may sound weird, but MacFarlane is a big science fan, a friend of Neil’s, and commonly puts a lot of science into his shows.
The new show is being created by National Geographic and Fox, and will air on the latter in prime time. To circumvent the expected comments on this, note that Fox News is separate from Fox TV, so the irony is there but perhaps not as strong as you might think.
I’m looking forward to this new show. "Cosmos" had a profound effect on hundreds of millions of people, but times have changed. I’ll be curious to see how they update the look and feel of the program for the modern audience.
Image credit: Wikipedia
Cool. Near the end he puts up quick flashes of skeptics, and you’ll probably see some fairly familiar faces there. I like the Carl Sagan section as well. Now I feel like I have to read more about Johannes Kepler…
Tip o’ the radio dish to reddit.
On March 17, just a month from now, NASA’s MESSENGER probe is scheduled to enter orbit around Mercury, the smallest planet in the solar system. No other mission from Earth has ever done this, and for the first time we’ll get high-resolution maps of the entire globe.
On its way down, the spacecraft was commanded to turn around and look outward, toward space. It took a series of images of what it saw… this astonishing family portrait of the solar system:
Click it to ensolarsystemate it and see it in more detail. When you do you’ll see the five classical planets in our system, as well as the Earth and Moon. Uranus and Neptune are there, but too faint to see, unfortunately, but still, this is an interesting picture. In November 2010, when these pictures were taken, Mercury was still nothing more than a dot. In fact, all the planets as barely more than dots, a reminder that this probe is well away from home and nowhere near any solid ground.
I like very much the images of Venus and the Earth. Venus is technically the closest planet to MESSENGER besides Mercury, though it depends on where the planets are in their orbits. It’s extremely bright as seen from the spacecraft, since MESSENGER is inside the orbit of Venus: the planet is therefore close to being full (like the full Moon) and reflects a lot of light back to the cameras.
And the Earth is accompanied by the Moon! That always amazed me. I’m so used to seeing pictures of just the Earth from space that it’s easy to forget that the Moon travels along with us. An important reminder in this picture is just how far the Moon is from us; 400,000 km is over 100 times the Moon’s size, so it appears to be a dot located well away from its home planet. If you wanted to make a scale model of it, a good way would be to use a golf ball to be Earth, and a marble located a meter away to be the Moon. That really brings home — ironically! — how small and distant our Moon is.
If you look to Jupiter you can see it has a couple of moons near it as well. The four moons spotted by Galileo 400 years ago are pretty big; Ganymede is actually about the same size as Mercury itself! Were Jupiter not there, Ganymede might be considered a planet on its own.
I smiled when I saw the section of the picture between Jupiter and Mars — that fuzzy glow is the Milky Way itself! The split down the middle is a dead giveaway; that’s caused by dust located in the disk of our galaxy. That section of the sky looks toward the center of our galaxy in the direction of the constellations Scorpius and Sagittarius.
I mention that last part on purpose. Read More
Carl Sagan had many great and important things to say. His words inspired millions of people to look up, to be curious, to wonder.
Reid Gower was so inspired. He set Sagan’s words to imagery, and created this powerful, powerful video. Make sure to set the resolution to 720.
Tip of the plosive to reddit.