21 December 2012

Carl Sagan Passed Away 16 Years Ago Today

Posted by Dan Satterfield

Sagan may be gone, but he is now inspiring a whole new generation. His Pale Blue Dot has now been seen by millions who were not even alive when he died 16 years ago today.

There are literally thousands of scientists who were inspired by Sagan. After watching COSMOS, his amazing PBS series, I knew I wanted to study science. The fantastic discoveries being made in astrophysics and Astronomy today are a direct result of the inspiration of this one man.

I think that two people in particular have taken up his mantle. In America it’s Neil deGrasse Tyson, who I was lucky enough to chat with in December 2010 (See the previous posts). He himself was inspired by Sagan.

The other person who has taken up his mantle is Brian Cox from the UK. His BBC series on the solar system is the only TV production on science that has surpassed Sagan’s COSMOS.

So, on this day it’s fitting to remember him. If you haven’t read his fantastic book The Demon Haunted World, you really should buy it.

From ”The Demon-Haunted World” by Carl Sagan:

We’ve arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements- transportation, communication, and all other industries; agriculture, medicine, education, entertainment, protecting the environment; and even the key democratic institution of voting- profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things, so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for awhile, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces.

…For much of our history, we were so fearful of the outside world, with it’s unpredictable dangers, that we gladly embraced anything that promised to soften or explain away the terror. Science is an attempt, largely successful to understand the world, to get a grip on things, to get a hold of ourselves. To steer a safe course. Microbiology, and meteorology now explain what only a few centuries ago was considered sufficient cause to burn women to death.

Avoidable human misery is more often caused by not so much by stupidity, but by ignorance, particularly ignorance about ourselves. I worry that…pseudoscience and superstition will seem year by year more tempting, the siren song of unreason more sonorous and attractive.

…The candle flame [ of Science] gutters. It’s little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The Demons begin to stir.

When Voyager was leaving the planets behind, Sagan pushed for the spacecraft to turn it’s camera back toward Earth and take a snap shot. It would not be easy and Earth would be just a point of light. For technical reasons it was a risky picture, but Sagan prevailed.

In case you have not seen it, here is Pale Blue Dot by Carl Sagan.