Carl Sagan

Last Night a #Cosmos Saved My Life

Last night the series premiere of Cosmos, a miniseries exploring the universe, debuted on Fox. Its a reboot of the original 1980s series which was hosted by astronomer Carl Sagan, and is one of the most widely watched miniseries in history. I saw part of the original series in the mid and late 80s, but I was still young and didn't fully appreciate it.

Last night, a Cosmos saved my life.

After graduating college, my good friend Raymond told me about Sagan's book Cosmos, which was made after the TV series gained in popularity. I immediately recognized the name as the series that I watched so many years before, but I did not know that the book would become one of my favorites of all time. OF ALL TIME.

Sagan has a way of describing complicated topics such as the length of time since the big bang in terms that can be grasped by a variety of folks. His Cosmic Calendar - where the entire history of the universe is placed in a calendar year - remains one of my favorite ways to explain exactly how new humans are to the universe. All of recorded history takes place at the very, very end of the calendar. Puts things into perspective.

I had so much fun watching Cosmos and participating in the discussions that followed on and offline. Be sure to check me out on Twitter (@ShareefJackson) every Sunday at 9pm Eastern as I tweet about Cosmos during the show. A sample of my tweets from the premiere are shown below via Storify.

Happy Birthday Carl Sagan!


Carl Sagan is a major reason why this blog exists. I've been into science as a kid, but I always envisioned it as a niche, nerdy thing.  Carl Sagan showed me that science can be mainstream and cool because it affects everything around is, every day!  He directly inspires my #ScienceLooksGood hashtag.

Check out this amazing video from Sagan's audiobook for Pale Blue Dot. Sagan describes how humbling it is that the earth is nothing more than a pale blue dot in the vast openness of a much larger universe that we have yet to understand. If you can't see the video embed below, click here.

Happy birthday, Carl.

Spaaaaace: Voyager Leaves the Solar System

Image from NASA. Not the best impression to send to another species

Licking, eating, and drinking. This is one of the images inside of Voyager 1, a spacecraft launched by NASA in 1977. NASA has received confirmation that Voyager has reached the edge of the solar system, becoming the first man made object to do so.

Voyager's primary missions of analyzing the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn occurred in the early 80s. In the 90s, Voyager pointed itself back towards earth and captured the now famous Pale Blue Dot photo, showing our planet in all of us nothingness amongst the vastness of space. How many electronic devices do have that still work after all of that time? Who knows what Voyager will accomplish next?

Voyager is well prepared for anything interesting that it may bump into. Wonder how we will communicate? By using science that any space fearing civilization would need to know. For example, the plaque adorning the spacecraft can be translated in the following way:

The key to translating the plaque lies in understanding the breakdown of the most common element in the universe - hydrogen. This element is illustrated in the left-hand corner of the plaque in schematic form showing the hyperfine transition of neutral atomic hydrogen. Anyone from a scientifically educated civilization having enough knowledge of hydrogen would be able to translate the message

All of the other information, including greetings in multiple languages and scenes from Earth, is encoded on 12-inch gold-plated copper discs. As described, "each record is encased in a protective aluminum jacket, together with a cartridge and a needle. Instructions, in symbolic language, explain the origin of the spacecraft and indicate how the record is to be played. The 115 images are encoded in analog form. The remainder of the record is in audio, designed to be played at 16-2/3 revolutions per second. "

If we launched a probe now, would it contain a giant iPod? And would that iPod travel so far that it becomes reprogrammed by another species and eventually becomes self aware? That's exactly what happened with the Voyager spacecraft in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Check out the film clip below of Captain Kirk making the discovery: