Monday, December 31, 2007

The Cosmic Explainer

Carl Sagan’s enduring legacy will always be linked to his ability to convey the wonders of science to the general public and his skill to inspire a new generation of scientists. In Fact, Sagan made the front cover of Time Magazine (Monday October 20th, 1980) which dubbed him the “Showman of Science.” The cover story, entitled ‘The Cosmic Explainer’ by Frederic Golden contains a very good biographical sketch of Carl and appeared when his landmark documentary Cosmos graced our television screens some twenty seven years ago.

Another good source of biographical information was given in the A&E biography documentary that appeared shortly after his untimely death on December 20th, 1996. It is a very good portrayal of how a kid from Brooklyn made good and became something of a media superstar —“indeed, a supernova of sorts”. So for your perusal “Heeere's Carl, bringing you nothing less than the universe.”

Carl Sagan - A Biography

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot -Episode 1: "Wanderers"

As I mentioned earlier this week, December 20th, 2007 marked the eleventh anniversary of the untimely passing of the American astronomer and popularizer of science Dr. Carl Sagan. Cosmos was the landmark documentary for which he will be long remembered.

Had he lived I am sure he would have gone on to produced and host several more documentaries. Back in July I mentioned a video project entitled ‘Pale Blue Dot -Episode 1: Wanderers’ which provides us with a glimpse of one such production.

Please allow me to reiterate what I said back in July: "it is a fantastic documentary worthy of PBS and a moving and fitting tribute to Carl Sagan. PALE BLUE DOT episode 1 was just as good as any PBS production I have seen thus far." This production is the brainchild of Lang Kasranov. Lang, you are an inspiration to us all.

Well here it is for all to see. Over the coming weeks I plan to post several such videos as part of an Internet wide tribute to the greatest science popularizers of all time: Carl Edward Sagan.

A higher resolution version video of this wonderful production can be seen in its entirety at Pale Blue Dot website.

The Gift of 'Cosmos'

Hello One and All,
In keeping with this Festive and Holiday Season and in commemoration of the 11th Anniversary of Carl Sagan's untimely passing I would like to give each and everyone of you the Gift of 'Cosmos'. This landmark Television Series is available Online from GUBA Free Video to view and enjoy once again for free. Background information concerning this landmark television series can be found on wikipedia.

The following video clip shows Carl Sagan’s introduction of the Cosmic Calendar in the first episode of Cosmos: The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean.

Cosmos: A Personal Voyage through Time and Space

Cosmos, the very word evokes the entirety of all existence and a sense of wonder. “The cosmos is all there is, all there ever was, and all there ever will be”. These opening lines of Carl Sagan’s book and landmark television series introduced us to the concept of science as a spiritual enterprise - the quest to understand who we are and where we stand in the vast scheme of the universe.

We live between two great gulfs within the very fabric of the cosmos- the immensity of space and an eternity of time. Yet, through the miracle of special effects and a starship of the imagination, Carl Sagan went boldly forth where few had gone before and took us with him on a personal voyage of discovery through those very gulfs. It was a voyage that traversed the galaxies and the vast ocean of time and space. This epic voyage began from the very shores of our planet out into the cosmic ocean. It was a journey that was also a homecoming to lay claim to our cosmic inheritance into the very realm from which we can trace our beginnings.

The science of our age has revealed to us a universe some fifteen billion years old, where the very matter of the cosmos came to life on our island Earth four billion years ago, and star stuff started contemplating the stars with the emergence of intelligence and civilization fifty thousand years ago. With civilization came science and through much trial and error we finally live in an epoch where the tools and methods of science allow us to make it a spiritual quest where we can, more than any previous generation, hope to answer the seven mystical questions of our age:

    1. How did the Cosmos come into being and how will it end?

    2. What is space?

    3. What is time?

    4. What is gravity?

    5. What are the fundamental nature of matter and energy?

    6. How did matter emerge into life and consciousness?

    7. Do we share the cosmos with other creatures that seek to
      answer these questions and others that our imagination and intelligence have not even begun to contemplate?

Carl Sagan’s Cosmos was for many of us the first epic voyage of exploration where we sort answers to these questions outside the realm of comic books, science fiction, or Star Trek.

Cosmos presented the whole of the scientific enterprise as a very human pursuit. For a very long time we have looked at science as something outside the realm of everyday human concern. We glorify art, literature, and music. But, look at science as a separate endeavor outside the human norm. In fact we should expand the definition of the humanities to encompass science. Science can trace its origins to its metaphysical beginnings in ancient Ionia. The wellsprings of some of our deepest questions were once the chief concerns of religion and philosophy. Yet, science, with a capital “S” is a human endeavor that resonates with our deepest yearnings to understand the reason and purpose of our existence. To quote Carl Sagan “Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality”. Science has its own poetry and psalms that glorify the wonders of the cosmos. Science uses its own language to write sonatas of praise to the numinous, the language of discovery known as mathematics.

Cosmos was also a major source of inspiration for many teenagers to pursue a career in science, and for me personally, a career as a science teacher. Often as I prepare my lesson plans or a public presentation, I can hear Sagan whispering to me “can’t you make it more interesting”? or “where is the poetry to evoke awe and wonder”? We need to inject that sense of wonder and awe back into our teaching. The discoveries of science and the language of discovery mathematics should be presented with the same spirit as Cosmos presented the wonders of creation to the general public. Our classrooms must become the starships of the imagination that transcend space and time to inspire a new generation of scientists and engineers to take us on new voyages of discovery.

The following video clip shows the opening introduction of the first episode of Cosmos: The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean.