Thursday, December 21, 2006

pale blue dot

today marks the 10th anniversary of the death of carl sagan. Since he has been a hero of mine for such a long time, i wanted to contribute something to his memory before catching a plane this afternoon.

my first memory of carl sagan is from my freshman year in college. i was majoring in french and taking the university's only undergrad astronomy class as my science requirement. the eccentric professor played a few episodes of the COSMOS mini-series, produced in the 80's by carl sagan and ann druyan. i really enjoyed them and wondered why i had never seen anything so easily understandable and inspiring before. a couple months later, the movie contact was released... proving to be a huge inspiration in my thoughts about the future. i only found out many years later that the movie was actually based on a novel by carl sagan and ann druyan!

later that spring, i decided to change my college major into some sort of science because my curiosities about the world and the universe felt unsatisfied without the observation, investigation and critical thought demanded by science. now armed with hindsight recognition, i thank carl for inspiring the direction of my pursuit.

not only were carl's scientific discoveries about our solar system and contributions to the early space program substantial, he also applied his critical thinking skills and scientific perspective to socially relevant issues. he successfully applied science to public welfare. he managed to communicate his ideas publicly in a kind, uplifting and un-condescending way... which is a diffcult task and rarely achieved by leading experts, in my opinion. i admire this quality in carl.

many years later now... i'm almost finished with my astrophysics PhD and again deciding what i want to do with the rest of my life. i find myself thinking a lot about carl's life as an astronomer and how he became such a strong public influence by passionately speaking about the things he'd learned from pondering the universe. he had such an amazing way of providing perspective for people who dont think about the universe in terms of "billions and billions" on a regular basis. He sparked the imaginations of people all over the world to contemplate the natural wonders of our universe... showing clearly how we need not invoke supernatural phenomenon to explain or feel the awe, joy, wonder, amazement... humbleness that strikes whenever we look at any one of the beautiful images provided by the hubble space telescope or others....

i hope to share with those around me and those i meet, some of the inspiration i've discovered from pondering the universe... (as a career.. haha!!) people often exclaim when i meet them "i've never met a real astronomer before!" then they usually ask me a question or two about something they've "always wondered" (and many times i even get the "you know, you really remind me of jody foster in contact. do you search for aliens, too?"). i love these conversations because i can have them with people from every country! every human considers these questions and uniquely discovers knowledge and perspective necessary for appreciating our extraordinary and finite existences. everyone seeks to explore inward and outward from the "pale blue dot" that is our shared home... the earth.

i also wanted to share with you the beautiful essay written today by carl's collaborator and life partner of 20 years, ann dryuan, ten times around the sun without carl.


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tom said...

thanks for the Druyan essay. i'll read that when i get home.

Anonymous said...

Astropixie - Sagan was also a huge inspiration to me as well. The man was just incredibly intelligent, he was a true 'Renaissance Man' if there ever was one.

I now do some scientific research on planetary science (mostly on orbit dynamics/celestial mechanics) in the aerospace industry and work as well. Nicely written eulogy to Carl Sagan, thanks!

The Druyan essay is very poignant.