Today is the birthday of Carl Sagan, a scientist that opened the Cosmos to my generation, and the generation before. While he will be known as an astronomer, a television personality, and arguably the nation’s first televised celebrity scientist, Dr. Sagan was far more. A shaggy-haired gawky man with warm eyes he was the embodiment of nerd chic in his mod-era turtlenecks and blazers, waxing poetic about such heady topics as the Oort Cloud and the size of our tiny galaxy within the scope of the universe.
He also inspired the look for a Big Bang Theory character
He made astronomy, and by relation science as a whole, cool for a disillusioned generation who had grown up surrounded by unpopular wars and political turmoil. Armed with his trademark “billions and billions” descriptor, he related the wonders of the known and theorized universe through his show The Cosmos with the enthusiastic fervor of a small child while speaking in the buttery language of a herald.
Because of Carl Sagan, and his groundbreaking Cosmos, we have a new generation of celebrity scientists who carry on his work of making the extraordinary relatable and digestible to the masses. Without Carl Sagan we wouldn’t have:
Neil deGrasse Tyson
He's Science Dolomite
The Mr. Miyagi of quantum physics
The Snoop Dogg of theoretical physics.
Okay, so the Hawking one is a bit of a stretch, he was publishing books alongside Sagan and well within the public eye by his own right, but I’m a fan of his work and goddamn, look at the man, he’s big pimpin’ brain of the Universe herself.
As for Sagan, he had something that no one else had that set him apart from the scientists of his era; he was a true poet. He saw the science and read it as poetry. His greatest gift to me as a boy was the lyrical beauty he gave the cosmos, and the adventure he made it’s exploration; even from this insignificant speck of dust orbiting an unremarkable star on an indistinguishable arm of an uninteresting galaxy amid billions and billions of other galaxies.
Part of my job every year is carrying on the legacy of Carl Sagan’s heralding the Cosmos for the masses, and even though I do it with digital whimsey rather than my words and degrees, I feel proud to be part of that family that Carl created.
The wonderful skeptic in Sagan would hate my next statement, but the poet I hope would smile.
To me, the poet that stands watch in my mind alongside the skeptic saw the Cosmos give Carl a birthday present, if not a day early. Asteroid 2005 YU55 passed by Earth yesterday, skirting by our little blue marble within the moon’s orbit. It’s not an uncommon event, NEO’s (Near Earth Objects) are more common than people are aware, but this one caught folk’s attention.
When we got a good look at it we saw what it was; just an unspectacular rock floating through space. Nothing more than a speck of dust from the cosmos, but at the same time so very important. The way Carl described Earth. In a poetic way, it could be thought that the Cosmos said, “Happy Birthday Carl, for an insignificant speck of dust, you’re pretty damned important.”
In reality the mathematical probability of an NEO sweeping past earth in line with one of Carl’s birthdays (plus or minus a day) is pretty high. But maybe, just for today, we can let the poet win out over the skeptic.
Happy Birthday Carl Sagan, from a tiny speck on a pale blue dot in the corner of your great Cosmos.