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New Website

I'm pleased to announce that Celebrating Sagan has a new home at

While things might look new, we've moved over all the content, feeds and comments, so all our great fan contributions are still in place.

We've also made it easier for users to submit new content, so head on over, look around and share your memories of Carl Sagan.


A Call for Memories

Three years ago, Celebrating Sagan launched to coincide with the ten year anniversary of Carl Sagan's death. The purpose of the site is to celebrate the life and work of Dr. Carl Sagan by sharing how the man's work and vision impacted all of us.

As we near the 13th anniversary, I'm remind that door is still open, and that we are still accepting submissions.

It has been a big year for Carl -- from Twitter to t-shirts to the Symphony of Science -- and the good doctor's work continues to reach new people every day. 

Please send your memories and tributes to memories [at]

Thank you.


If you want to make an apple pie from scratch...

To celebrate Dr. Sagan's birthday, Joe and Julie from St. Louis made an apple pie, from scratch.


NYC book club to feature Sagan family book

On December 10, the Secular Humanist Society of New York book club will discuss Acquiring Genomes by Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan; details here (Carl Sagan's The Varieties of Scientific Experience has been featured in the past).

Happy Birthday Carl

All that we have seen is something of a vast and intricate and lovely universe. There is no particular theological conclusion that comes out of an exercise such as the one we have just gone through. What is more, when we understand something of the astronomical dynamics, the evolution of worlds, we recognize that worlds are born and worlds die, they have lifetimes just as humans do, and therefore that there is a great deal of suffering and death in the cosmos is a great deal of life.

-- Dr. Carl Sagan. 'The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God.' Edited by Ann Druyan from the 1985 Gifford Lectures. Published in 2006.


Play it again

John Boswell, the madly brilliant sound-chemist who Auto-Tuned his way into our hearts with “A Glorious Dawn” featuring Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking, has launched the laud-worthy project “Symphony of Science” which is “designed to deliver scientific knowledge and philosophy in musical form.” You couldn’t ask for a better goal than that.

-- Chris Hardwick, Nerdist


Sagan Mashup

via ajboyer on Twitter.


Celebrating Sagan is now on Twitter. Follow us here for more Sagan related news.


Sounds of Earth

Probably the most humanizing and often talked about aspects of Voyager is the Golden Record... humanity's message to the unknown. Here you can listen to just a few of NASA's original recordings that were featured on the record.

For more on the Golden Record, check out this post from 2006.
from the New York Times, August 20, 1977

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., Aug. 19--The Voyager spacecraft scheduled for launching tomorrow to scout Jupiter, Saturn, and possibly Uranus will be carrying a message from Earth on the off chance that extraterrestrial beings will come upon the craft centuries from now, somewhere on its endless journey beyond the solar system.

The message is in the form of a recoding, called "Sounds of Earth." It is a 12 inch copper phonograph record inserted in an aluminum protective jacket that is attached to the outside of the 1,820 pound spacecraft.

Dr. Carl Sagan, the Cornell University astronomer who conceived the idea, calls the recorded message a "bottle cast into the cosmic ocean."

Languages and Nature

Inscribed on the record are nearly two hours of greetings in dozens of human languages, samples of music of various cultures and times, natural sounds such as the wind and surf and animals and birds, and a message from President Carter.

All preparations were reported to be running smoothly for the launching at 10:25 A.M. tomorrow at the Kennedy Space Center here. The spacecraft, called Voyager 2 even though it is to be the first of the two craft to be launched in the Voyager program, is to
be blasted into its interplanetary course by a Titan 3E Centaur rocket.

George F. Page, the director of the mission launching operations at the space center, said today that "everything is proceeding right on time" and that the forecast was good launching weather.

Voyager2, equipped with television cameras and scientific instruments, is to fly by Jupiter in 1979, Saturn in 1981 and, if all continues to go well, Uranus in 1986. An identical spacecraft, Voyager 1, scheduled for launching Sept. 1, is to explore Jupiter and Saturn. The missions call for the most far-ranging reconnaissance of the outer solar system thus far.

'A Very Big Step'

At a news conference today, Dr. Edward C. Stone, the project scientist from the California Institute of Technology, described the Voyager missions as "a very big step in extending our ability to observe our surroundings and the solar system."

The $400 million project has been five years in preparation, directed for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of Pasadena, Calif. The idea of attaching a phonograph message to the space vehicle was an afterthought.

The messages on the record were designed to enable possible extraterrestrial civilizations that might intercept the spacecraft millions of years hence to put together some picture of 20th century Earth and its inhabitants. The record runs about two hours.

The record contains, in scientific language, information on how it is to be played, using the cartridge and needle provided. The first eight minutes consist of a wavy, electronic hum, which is the transmission of 115 photographs and diagrams in electronic form depicting the mathematics, chemistry, geology and biology of the Earth and a description of the solar system.

The President's Message

One of the messages, in electronic form, is a letter from President Carter. It reads, in part:

"We cast this message into the cosmos. It is likely to survive a billion years into our future, when our civilization is profoundly altered and the surface of the Earth may be vastly changed. Of the 200 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy, some--perhaps many--may have inhabited planets and space-faring civilizations. If one such civilization intercepts Voyager and can understand these recorded contents, here is our message:

"This is a present from a small distant world, a token of our sounds, our science, our images, our music, our thoughts, and our feelings. We are attempting to survive our time so we may live into yours. We hope someday, having solved the problems we face, to join a community of galactic civilizations. This record represents our hope and our determination, and our good will in a vast and awesome universe."

The musical selections represent many cultures and many times, including Eastern and Western classical music, ethnic music, and jazz and rock-and-roll. There is Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, "Johnny B. Goode" by Chuck Berry, A Navajo Night Chant, Peruvian Woman's Wedding Song and Australian Horn and Totem Song.

"Because space is very empty, there is essential no chance that Voyager will enter the planetary system of another star," Dr. Sagan said. "The spacecraft will be encountered and the record played only if there are advanced space-faring civilizations in interstellar space.

August 20, 1977

Voyager 2 launched 32 years ago today, and to celebrate, we're going to publish a few Voyager related posts.

Stay tuned.


"Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors" screening in NYC

The 1964 film by Sergei Paradjanov which provided the title for Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan's book (and whose DVD release was noted here previously) is being screened, in a new 35mm print with subtitles, at Anthology Film Archives in NYC on the 21st and 23rd. AFA's website describes it as "[a] boldly conceived and astonishingly photographed blend of enchanting mythology, hypnotic religious iconography, and pagan magic."


God, the Universe and Everything Else

"Feeling unhappy because it isn't immediately understandable."

"Nothing will put astrologers out of business."

Here is a video of Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan, and Arthur C. Clarke talking about everything and everything's beginning. It consists of questions and answers. The first point that Carl Sagan makes in this video is about questions and answers. He goes on to talk about answers in his own answers. Many people in this world are obsessed with finding and having answers to the questions that they encounter in their lives. Carl Sagan was not one of these people.

The canon of human knowledge will always be finite. The remainder of available knowledge in the universe will always be infinite. Carl Sagan encouraged us to celebrate that which we do not know, and attack it with questions and investigation. With full understanding that the task of science is undoubtedly insurmountable, we attempt it anyway. Not only is the task of science insurmountable, it is constantly working against itself. As soon as we figure something out, that new knowledge has a pesky habit of creating even more questions. Those people who recognize this fact, and purse the pursuit anyway are those who wind up finding the greatest answers.

Sadly, so long as there are things which we do not understand, and indeed there always will be, there will be people who will seek a shortcut to answers without even knowing the right questions to ask. It's easier to follow the words of a charismatic leader, to believe in psychics, blame personal shortcomings on fate, or settle a dispute with violence than to seek and confront an uncomfortable truth.

On behalf of all those he helped make the jump into rejecting dogma and seeking truth through rational inquiry knowing we will never fully find it, let me say thank you to Carl Sagan.

-- submitted to Celebrating Sagan by Dave Lodewyck.


new blog: According to Carl Sagan

There's a brand-new Sagan-related blog in town; topics in the 4 posts so far have ranged from the evolutionary origins of sports to neglected rocket pioneer Robert Goddard. Since Carl weighed in on a truly wide variety of topics, there should be plenty of material to blog about.

(Hat tip: Francois Tremblay; cross-posted to my personal blog)



Dr. Sagan on the solstice.


Carl Sagan's Barsoomian blurb

I recently discovered that the back cover of the 2007 Penguin Classics edition of A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs has a prominent blurb by Carl Sagan: "Might it really be possible—in fact and not fancy—to venture with John Carter to the Kingdom of Helium on the planet Mars?" Although the cover does not specify the source of the quote, it's from the "Blues for a Red Planet" chapter from Cosmos; references to his being a fan of the John Carter books since first reading them as a kid appear scattered throughout Sagan's writings, including an anecdote about obtaining a related vanity plate (due to a limit of 6 letters per plate, he had to settle for "PHOBOS" instead of his first choice, "BARSOOM"). And this hasn't been the first time that Burroughsians have noticed Sagan; for instance, consider the Burroughs fansite ERBzine's lengthy tribute to Sagan.

I'd be happy to see more Sagan blurbs on other science fiction books; he had a generally favorable view of science fiction in general (with some caveats about scientific errors and the promotion of pseudoscience) and had nice things to say about quite a few science fiction classics in his writings, for instance in the essay "Science Fiction—A Personal View" in Broca's Brain, or the extended discussion in Pale Blue Dot (which I was quite surprised to see when first reading it) of a 1942 short story by Jack Williamson dealing with antimatter and asteroid colonization, "Collision Orbit" (which was incorporated into the fix-up novel Seetee Ship). (By the way, I've always wondered if the character Jane Carter in Williamson's The Humanoids was a Burroughs reference, with the character's teleportation abilities being a takeoff on Burroughs's use of astral projection to get John Carter to Mars.)


Help Celebrating Sagan Grow

A lot has changed since David and I started Celebrating Sagan in December of 2006. And while we've both moved on to other projects and different things, I've never been happy with how we left website. I especially always felt that it could and should be more.

Thanks to the help of Joel the site has been slowly coasting through the years accumulating a few a posts and a few comments here and there. Getting by but not really making any progress.

I've decided that with the 75th anniversary of Sagan's birth looming on the horizon, now might be a great time to reach out to the Celebrating Sagan community and see if we can elevate the site into a place where we -- in addition to celebrating the life of Carl Sagan through our memories -- celebrate the good doctor through new creative works, interpretations of his writings, or updates on his ideas. More than just a slow cascade of post cards, I believe that this can become a living and breathing testament to one man's passion and enthusiasm for life.

I know that time and resources are scarce for most... myself included. That is why I created this short survey. Please take a moment to provide some feedback. Your ideas help inform how Celebrating Sagan grows in coming years.

Thank you.



Across the Universe

Thomas Mallon has an article in the most recent issue of The Atlantic about solar sailing and The Planetary Society. In the article he interviews Ann Druyan and Louis Friedman.

As friends of Carl Sagan you all are probably familiar with the concept solar sailing, but for those that don't know, here is an excerpt from Mallon:

In March of 2008, I sat down in the carriage house with Friedman and two other members of his solar-sailing team: Harris “Bud” Schurmeier, the retired project manager on the old Voyager missions; and Viktor Kerzhanovich, whose long career in both Russia and America has earned him the U.S.S.R. State Prize and more than one NASA Group Achievement Award. If the Planetary Society tends to exhort its more than 50,000 members in sonorous terms, conversation in the carriage house was speculative and playful. Throughout the morning, the years fell away from the three old-timers eager to tell a visitor about how solar sailing works—and to spar a bit.

“Light has energy,” said Friedman. “That you can’t argue with.”

“More important,” said Kerzhanovich, “it has momentum.”

“Therefore it has a force,” added Friedman. “You’re using the energy of light, and the force derived thereof, to transfer momentum of light energy to your vehicle, in order to propel the spacecraft. Basically your spacecraft, your solar sail, looks like a sail, but it really is a mirror. And so it’s reflecting the light, and that reflection is where the momentum transfer occurs.” If the mirror were fixed to a wall, there would be no transfer. But in free space, with no gravity and no air pressure? You’re off to the cosmic races.

“It’s not the solar wind,” Friedman reminded me.

“Things got named wrong,” said Schurmeier. However pretty it sounds, “sailing” is really a metaphor. There is such a thing as solar wind, but as Friedman explained, “Solar wind is electrons and protons that come from the sun, and they have mass, but they go very much slower than light.”

It’s photons, not protons, that we’re talking about?

“Right,” said Friedman. “Photons have no mass, they’re all energy. You do get a force from the solar wind, but it’s about a thousand times less than the force you get from this reflection. You turn your mirror in different directions, you can point the force in any direction you want!”

You can read the whole article, for free, here.

You can also contribute to The Planetary Society by becoming a member.


"Carl Sagan Lives On" livejournal community

As the title suggests, on LiveJournal, there's a community called "Carl Sagan Lives On", described as "an open community dedicated to the life, wisdom, and legacy of Carl Sagan." It's been running since 2003, with 94 posts in total; the number of posts has tapered off recently (only 6 posts in 2008), but maybe this post will encourage a few LiveJournal users to join up (after all, the news that Cosmos is on Hulu prompted the most recent post).


Cosmos is now on Hulu

Well, the website which has become known for offering up full-length TV shows (and a few movies) for free, ad-supported viewing (with a selection including a good amount of genre shows from The Addams Family to Firefly, but very light on science shows, and no, this doesn't count) has added the complete run of Carl Sagan's TV series to the mix. I guess this needs no further explanation, but Hulu's description is nice, especially the final sentence:
In 1980, the landmark series Cosmos premiered on public television. Since then, it is estimated that more than a billion people around the planet have seen it. Cosmos chronicles the evolution of the planet and efforts to find our place in the universe. Each of the 13 episodes focuses on a specific aspect of the nature of life, consciousness, the universe and time. Topics include the origin of life on Earth (and perhaps elsewhere), the nature of consciousness, and the birth and death of stars. When it first aired, the series catapulted creator and host Carl Sagan to the status of pop culture icon and opened countless minds to the power of science and the possibility of life on other worlds.
The version of the series used seems to be the same as the 2000 DVD version; it's especially nice to have Ann Druyan's introduction at the beginning of the first episode, as well as the 1990 updates at the end of episodes like The Edge of Forever. (I'm guessing that the DVD music changes are still in there.) And unfortunately, the website is restricted to viewers in the United States.

Man, I can remember quite a few of the home video incarnations of the series, beginning back in the 1990s with occasionally seeing the humongous boxed set of the series on VHS (sometimes with a paperback of the book thrown in for good measure) in science museum gift shops and the like; being completely overjoyed to find a fraction of the show's run on 2-episodes-per-VHS tape at a Blockbuster; the DVD release in 2000 with gorgeous packaging, going for $100 or more; last year's iTunes release for $1.99 an episode; and now, finally, this. I wouldn't go quite so far as agreeing with John Scalzi's comment that "the Internet has just justified its existence" (and the hardcore fans have a copy already, although now they won't have to lend out their copy to friends), but it's definitely the next step.

And of course, the news kicks off another round of Sagan fans' reminiscing about the impact of Cosmos and Sagan (just as the iTunes release did a year ago), in blogs (I'm pointing to a blog search rather than try to pick out favorites) and comment threads like this one.