Today would be Carl Sagan’s birthday if he was still alive, so Kepler and SETI have declared today as “Sagan Day” and invited people to send in essays about science and our place in the universe, inspired by his “Shores of the Cosmic Ocean”.
I watched Cosmos again a few months ago and it’s still a great series and well worth watching – Prof. Sagan was a darn fine educator, and really put across the wonder of the universe and how deeply he was affected by it all. I think that’s why I like Brian Cox and his Wonders of the Solar System series, because he did pretty much the same thing (unsurprisingly, Prof. Sagan was one of his big influences too).
Cosmos didn’t get me into astronomy – I was already into it by the time I saw it (being a Brit, Sir Patrick Moore and Heather Couper were probably a bigger influence on me) – but Cosmos did leave several indellible impressions on me, and it certanly reinforced my fascination with science and astronomy:
- The biggest impression, oddly enough, was a fascination with the Periodic Table, as explained by the man himself in The Lives of Stars episode, from Cosmos – ever since then I’ve had a bizarre fascination with Praseodymium . I love reading about the elements and their properties and their uses (webelements.com is one of my favourite sites ), and I would kill to have a “real” periodic table that had samples of all the elements like the one shown in the clip!
- Another big impression was the “Ship of the Imagination” (seen in some of the other videos below) that Sagan used to travel around the universe in the show. More than anything else I would have love to be able to go on such a trip, unconstrained by time or physical limits, and see the wonders of the universe first-hand. I guess that’s why I’m so into scifi .
- There’s the Encyclopaedia Galactica, which I’m about 100% certain is what got me into Worldbuilding. Who knows what worlds are out there, waiting to be found? We’ve only just started to discover them. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to imagine what they could be like.
- And the Cosmic Calendar, where Sagan compresses all of time since the Big Bang into one calendar year, and shows us how completely insignificant all of human achievement is in time.
- And finally, a sobering reminder of our own mortality and the fragility of our planet, made vivid by the telling of a chilling dream that Sagan had. I guess he was one of the first people that I was aware of who was an environmentalist, who told us that we should be taking care of our planet and ourselves. It’s a pity that 30 years later we’re still making a mess of it all.
The other big thing was the music – the soundtrack of the series is varied and eclectic, ranging from classical pieces, to Vangelis electronica, to Bulgarian folk music. But it’s all memorable, and quite timeless.
It’s impossible to watch Cosmos without being inspired by it – Sagan’s explanations are spell-binding and enrapturing, and it’s still one of the best science shows ever made. He explains things clearly and succinctly, isn’t afraid to go into detail where necessary, puts his obvious passion across, and doesn’t patronise the audience. You couldn’t ask for a better teacher, and he’s inspirational for me in that regard as I try to get into science education myself.
So, thanks for everything, Professor Sagan (and Happy Birthday!)