Carl Sagan life and biography

Carl Sagan  picture, image, poster

Carl Sagan biography

Date of birth : 1934-11-09
Date of death : 1996-12-20
Birthplace : Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
Nationality : American
Category : Arhitecture and Engineering
Last modified : 2010-05-03
Credited as : Astronomer, Astrophysicist and cosmologist, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage

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Carl Edward Sagan (November 9, 1934 – December 20, 1996) was an American astronomer, astrophysicist, author, cosmologist, and highly successful popularizer of astronomy, astrophysics and other natural sciences. During his lifetime, he published more than 600 scientific papers and popular articles and was author, co-author, or editor of more than 20 books. In his works, he advocated skeptical inquiry and the scientific method. He pioneered exobiology and promoted the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI).

Sagan became world-famous for his popular science books and for the award-winning 1980 television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, which he narrated and co-wrote. A book to accompany the program was also published. Sagan also wrote the novel, Contact, the basis for the 1997 film of the same name. He remains a figure of reference for the generation growing up in the late 1970s, early 1980s.

Known for his vast contributions in the field of astronomy and biology, Carl Sagan went on to work for the University of California-Berkley, Harvard, and even the Smithsonian. In his later years, he won the Pulitzer Prize for his work on examining the atmospheres of other planets.


Born in New York City, the young Carl became obsessed with learning about the night sky and the stars that were just beyond his reach. His interest sustained throughout his adolescence and he went on to receive not only a BA in astronomy, but also a PhD in 1960. Thereafter, he served several academic posts and became director of Cornell University’s Laboratory for Planetary Studies. Furthermore, he worked with NASA in the United States, serving on a counsel that was directly involved in the examination and eventual space-probe missions to study several planets.


Going against the modern scientific belief of his day that Venus was a cool planet which might sustain life, Sagan explained that the planet could be the exact opposite – one that was extremely hot and one that would not sustain life. Scientists were searching for a reason why charged particles, or radio emissions were being found in its atmosphere. Sagan concluded further that if the planet had an extreme surface temperature, the radio signals would actually be a natural part of the carbon dioxide being trapped in the atmosphere. A probe sent by the Soviet Union proved his theories correct. Sagan proved a similar theory about the surface of Mars, when he concluded that the light and dark spots on the planet were canyons and high ridges bombarded with constant dust storms.


Carl Sagan entered the public limelight with his book The Cosmic Connection in which he promoted the use of space exploration for the search of life elsewhere in the universe. His Dragons of Eden, a book about the evolution of the human mind and intelligence, won him the Pulitzer Prize. In his work, he also warned about how nuclear capabilities on Earth would cause its eventual destruction.


Posthumous recognition

The 1997 movie Contact, based on Sagan's novel of the same name and finished after his death, ends with the dedication "For Carl".

In 1997, the Sagan Planet Walk was opened in Ithaca New York. It is a walking scale model of the solar system, extending 1.2 km from the center of The Commons in downtown Ithaca, NY, to the Sciencenter, a hands-on museum. The exhibition was created in memory Carl Sagan, who was an Ithaca resident and Cornell Professor. Professor Sagan had been a founding member of the museum's advisory board.

After landing, the unmanned Mars Pathfinder spacecraft was renamed the Carl Sagan Memorial Station on July 5, 1997.

Sagan's son, Nick Sagan, wrote several episodes in the Star Trek franchise. In an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise entitled "Terra Prime", a quick shot is shown of the relic rover Sojourner, part of the Mars Pathfinder mission, placed by a historical marker at Carl Sagan Memorial Station on the Martian surface. The marker displays a quote from Sagan: "Whatever the reason you're on Mars, I'm glad you're there, and I wish I was with you." Sagan's student Steve Squyres led the team that landed the Spirit Rover and Opportunity Rover successfully on Mars in 2004.

Asteroid 2709 Sagan is also named in his honor.

On November 9, 2001, on what would have been Sagan's 67th birthday, the NASA Ames Research Center dedicated the site for the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Cosmos. "Carl was an incredible visionary, and now his legacy can be preserved and advanced by a 21st century research and education laboratory committed to enhancing our understanding of life in the universe and furthering the cause of space exploration for all time", said NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin. Ann Druyan was at the Center as it opened its doors on October 22, 2006.

Sagan has at least three awards named in his honor:

- The Carl Sagan Memorial Award presented jointly since 1997 by the American Astronautical Society (AAS) and the Planetary Society,
- The Carl Sagan Medal for Excellence in Public Communication in Planetary Science presented since 1998 by the American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences (AAS/DPS) for outstanding communication by an active planetary scientist to the general public — Carl Sagan was one of the original organizing committee members of the DPS, and
- The Carl Sagan Award for Public Understanding of Science presented by the Council of Scientific Society Presidents (CSSP) — Sagan himself was the first recipient of the CSSP award in 1993.

In 2006, the Carl Sagan Medal was awarded to astrobiologist and author David Grinspoon, the son of Sagan's friend Lester Grinspoon.

On December 20, 2006, the tenth anniversary of Sagan's death, a blogger, Joel Schlosberg, organized a Carl Sagan "blog-a-thon" to commemorate Sagan's death, and the idea was supported by Nick Sagan. Many members of the blogging community participated.

In 2008, Benn Jordan, also known as "The Flashbulb", released the album Pale Blue Dot: A Tribute to Carl Sagan.

In 2009, clips from Carl Sagan's Cosmos were used as the basis for A Glorious Dawn, the first video produced for the Symphony of Science, an educational music video production by composer John Boswell. Musician Jack White later released this song as a vinyl single under his record label Third Man Records. Additional clips were used in several followup videos which featured Sagan alongside other noted scientists and proponents of rational thinking, such as Richard Dawkins, Richard Feynman, Brian Greene, Lawrence M. Krauss, Bill Nye, and Neil deGrasse Tyson. So far, Sagan is the only scientist featured in every Symphony of Science video.

Also in 2009, the 75th anniversary of Carl Sagan's birth, the first "Carl Sagan Day" was celebrated on November 7.

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