Carl Sagan
Carl Sagan

Sagan in 1980
Born November 9, 1934(1934-11-09)
Brooklyn, New York City, U.S.
Died December 20, 1996(1996-12-20) (aged 62)
Seattle, Washington, U.S.
Residence United States[1]
Nationality American
Fields Astronomy, Astrophysics, Cosmology, Astrobiology, Space science, Planetary science
Institutions Cornell University
Harvard University
Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory
University of California, Berkeley
Alma mater University of Chicago
(B.A.), (B.Sc.), (M.Sc.), (Ph.D.)
Known for Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI)
Cosmos: A Personal Voyage
Voyager Golden Record
Pioneer plaque
Pale Blue Dot
Notable awards Oersted Medal (1990)
NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal (twice)
Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction (1978)
National Academy of Sciences Public Welfare Medal (1994)

Carl Edward Sagan (English pronunciation: /ˈseɪɡən/) (November 9, 1934 – December 20, 1996) was an American astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, science popularizer and science communicator in astronomy and natural sciences. He published more than 600 scientific papers and articles and was author, co-author or editor of more than 20 books. He advocated scientifically skeptical inquiry and the scientific method, pioneered exobiology and promoted the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI).

Sagan is known for his popular science books and for the award-winning 1980 television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, which he narrated and co-wrote.[2] The book Cosmos was published to accompany the series. Sagan wrote the novel Contact, the basis for a 1997 film of the same name.


Early life

Carl Sagan was born in Brooklyn, New York,[3] to a Ukrainian Jewish family. His father, Sam Sagan, was an immigrant garment worker from Kamenets-Podolsk, Ukraine;[4] his mother, Rachel Molly Gruber, a housewife. Carl was named in honor of Rachel's biological mother, Chaiya Clara, in Sagan's words, "the mother she never knew." Sagan graduated from Rahway High School in Rahway, New Jersey, in 1951.[5]

He had a sister, Carol, and the family lived in a modest apartment near the Atlantic Ocean, in Bensonhurst, a Brooklyn neighborhood. According to Sagan, they were Reform Jews, the most liberal of the three main Jewish groups. Both Sagan and his sister agree that their father was not especially religious, but that their mother "definitely believed in God, and was active in the temple ... and served only Kosher meat."[5]:12 During the height of the Depression, his father had to accept a job as a theater usher.

According to biographer Keay Davidson, Sagan's "inner war" was a result of his close relations with both his parents, who were in many ways "opposites." Sagan traced his later analytical urges to his mother, a woman who had known "extreme poverty as a child," and had grown up almost homeless in New York City during World War I and the 1920s.[5]:2 She had her own intellectual ambitions as a young woman, but they were blocked by social restrictions, because of her poverty, her being a woman and wife, and her Jewish ethnicity. Davidson notes that she therefore "worshiped her only son, Carl. He would fulfill her unfulfilled dreams."[5]:2

However, his "sense of wonder" came from his father, who was a "quiet and soft-hearted escapee from the Czar." In his free time, he gave apples to the poor, or helped soothe labor-management tensions within New York's "tumultuous" garment industry.[5]:2 Although he was "awed" by Carl's "brilliance, his boyish chatter about stars and dinosaurs," he took his son's inquisitiveness in stride, as part of his growing up.[5]:2 In his later years as a writer and scientist, Sagan would often draw on his childhood memories to illustrate scientific points, as he did in his book, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors.[5]:9 Sagan describes his parents' influence on his later thinking:

My parents were not scientists. They knew almost nothing about science. But in introducing me simultaneously to skepticism and to wonder, they taught me the two uneasily cohabiting modes of thought that are central to the scientific method.[6]

1939 World's Fair

Sagan recalls that one of his best experiences was when he was four or five years old, his parents took him to the 1939 New York World's Fair. The exhibits became a turning point in his life. He later recalled the moving map of the "America of Tomorrow" exhibit: "It showed beautiful highways and cloverleaves and little General Motors cars all carrying people to skyscrapers, buildings with lovely spires, flying buttresses—and it looked great!"[5]:14 At other exhibits, he remembered how a flashlight that shined on a photoelectric cell created a cracking sound, and how the sound from a tuning fork became a wave on an oscilloscope. He also witnessed the future media technology that would replace radio: television. Sagan wrote:

Plainly, the world held wonders of a kind I had never guessed. How could a tone become a picture and light become a noise?[5]:14

He also saw one of the Fair's most publicized events, the burial of a time capsule at Flushing Meadows, which contained mementos of the 1930s to be recovered by Earth's descendants in a future millennium. "The time capsule thrilled Carl," writes Davidson. As an adult, Sagan and his colleagues created similar time capsules, but ones that would be sent out into the galaxy. These were the Pioneer plaque and the Voyager Golden Record records, all of which were spinoffs of Sagan's memories of the World Fair.[5]:15

World War II

During World War II, Sagan's family worried about the fate of their European relatives. Sagan, however, was generally unaware of the details of the ongoing war. He writes, "Sure, we had relatives who were caught up in the Holocaust. Hitler was not a popular fellow in our household ... But on the other hand, I was fairly insulated from the horrors of the war." His sister, Carol, said that their mother "above all wanted to protect Carl ... She had an extraordinarily difficult time dealing with World War II and the Holocaust."[5]:15 Sagan's book, The Demon-Haunted World (1996), included his memories of this conflicted period in his life, where his family dealt with the realities of the war in Europe, but tried to prevent it from undermining his optimistic spirit.[6]

Inquisitiveness about nature

Soon after entering elementary school, he began to express a strong inquisitiveness about nature. Sagan recalled taking his first trips to the public library alone, at the age of five, when his mother got him a library card. He wanted to learn what stars were, since none of his friends or their parents could give him a clear answer:

I went to the librarian and asked for a book about stars ... And the answer was stunning. It was that the Sun was a star but really close. The stars were suns, but so far away they were just little points of light ... The scale of the universe suddenly opened up to me. It was a kind of religious experience. There was a magnificence to it, a grandeur, a scale which has never left me. Never ever left me.[5]:18

About the time he was six or seven, he and a close friend took trips to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. While there, they went to the Hayden Planetarium and walked around the museum's exhibits of space objects, such as meteorites, and displays of dinosaurs and animals in natural settings. Sagan writes about those visits:

I was transfixed by the dioramas—lifelike representations of animals and their habitats all over the world. Penguins on the dimly lit Antarctic ice; ... a family of gorillas, the male beating his chest, ... an American grizzly bear standing on his hind legs, ten or twelve feet tall, and staring me right in the eye.[5]:18

His parents helped nurture his growing interest in science by buying him chemistry sets and reading materials. His interest in space, however, was his primary focus, especially after reading science fiction stories by writers such as Edgar Rice Burroughs, which stirred his imagination about life on other planets, such as Mars. According to biographer Ray Spangenburg, these early years as Sagan tried to understand the mysteries of the planets, became a "driving force in his life, a continual spark to his intellect, and a quest that would never be forgotten."[6]

Education and scientific career

He attended the University of Chicago, where he participated in the Ryerson Astronomical Society,[7] received a bachelor of arts with general and special honors in 1954, a bachelor of science in 1955, and a master of science in physics in 1956 before earning a PhD in astronomy and astrophysics in 1960.[8] During his time as an undergraduate, Sagan worked in the laboratory of the geneticist H. J. Muller. From 1960 to 1962 Sagan was a Miller Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley. From 1962 to 1968, he worked at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Sagan lectured and did research at Harvard University until 1968, when he moved to Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. He became a full Professor at Cornell in 1971, and he directed the Laboratory for Planetary Studies there. From 1972 to 1981, Sagan was the Associate Director of the Center for Radio Physics and Space Research at Cornell.

Sagan was associated with the American space program from its inception. From the 1950s onward, he worked as an advisor to NASA, where one of his duties included briefing the Apollo astronauts before their flights to the Moon. Sagan contributed to many of the robotic spacecraft missions that explored the solar system, arranging experiments on many of the expeditions. He conceived the idea of adding an unalterable and universal message on spacecraft destined to leave the solar system that could potentially be understood by any extraterrestrial intelligence that might find it. Sagan assembled the first physical message that was sent into space: a gold-anodized plaque, attached to the space probe Pioneer 10, launched in 1972. Pioneer 11, also carrying another copy of the plaque, was launched the following year. He continued to refine his designs; the most elaborate message he helped to develop and assemble was the Voyager Golden Record that was sent out with the Voyager space probes in 1977. Sagan often challenged the decisions to fund the Space Shuttle and Space Station at the expense of further robotic missions.[9]

Sagan taught a course on critical thinking at Cornell University until he died in 1996 from pneumonia, a few months after finding that he was in remission of myelodysplastic syndrome.

Scientific achievements

Sagan's contributions were central to the discovery of the high surface temperatures of the planet Venus. In the early 1960s no one knew for certain the basic conditions of that planet's surface, and Sagan listed the possibilities in a report later depicted for popularization in a Time-Life book, Planets. His own view was that Venus was dry and very hot as opposed to the balmy paradise others had imagined. He had investigated radio emissions from Venus and concluded that there was a surface temperature of 500 °C (900 °F). As a visiting scientist to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, he contributed to the first Mariner missions to Venus, working on the design and management of the project. Mariner 2 confirmed his conclusions on the surface conditions of Venus in 1962.

Sagan was among the first to hypothesize that Saturn's moon Titan might possess oceans of liquid compounds on its surface and that Jupiter's moon Europa might possess subsurface oceans of water. This would make Europa potentially habitable for life.[10] Europa's subsurface ocean of water was later indirectly confirmed by the spacecraft Galileo. Sagan also helped solve the mystery of the reddish haze seen on Titan, revealing that it is composed of complex organic molecules constantly raining down onto the moon's surface.[citation needed]

He further contributed insights regarding the atmospheres of Venus and Jupiter as well as seasonal changes on Mars. Sagan established that the atmosphere of Venus is extremely hot and dense with pressures increasing steadily all the way down to the surface. He also perceived global warming as a growing, man-made danger and likened it to the natural development of Venus into a hot, life-hostile planet through a kind of runaway greenhouse effect. Sagan and his Cornell colleague Edwin Ernest Salpeter speculated about life in Jupiter's clouds, given the planet's dense atmospheric composition rich in organic molecules. He studied the observed color variations on Mars' surface and concluded that they were not seasonal or vegetational changes as most believed but shifts in surface dust caused by windstorms.

Sagan is best known, however, for his research on the possibilities of extraterrestrial life, including experimental demonstration of the production of amino acids from basic chemicals by radiation.[11]

He is also the 1994 recipient of the Public Welfare Medal, the highest award of the National Academy of Sciences for "distinguished contributions in the application of science to the public welfare."[12] He was denied membership in the Academy, reportedly because his media activities made him unpopular with many other scientists.[13]

Scientific advocacy

Planetary Society members at the organization's founding. Carl Sagan is seated on the right.

Sagan's ability to convey his ideas allowed many people to better understand the cosmos—simultaneously emphasizing the value and worthiness of the human race, and the relative insignificance of the Earth in comparison to the universe. He delivered the 1977 series of Royal Institution Christmas Lectures in London. He hosted and, with Ann Druyan, co-wrote and co-produced the highly popular thirteen-part PBS television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage modeled on Jacob Bronowski's The Ascent of Man.

Sagan was a proponent of the search for extraterrestrial life. He urged the scientific community to listen with radio telescopes for signals from potential intelligent extraterrestrial life-forms. Sagan was so persuasive that by 1982 he was able to get a petition advocating SETI published in the journal Science and signed by 70 scientists including seven Nobel Prize winners. This was a tremendous increase in the respectability of this controversial field. Sagan also helped Dr. Frank Drake write the Arecibo message, a radio message beamed into space from the Arecibo radio telescope on November 16, 1974, aimed at informing potential extraterrestrials about Earth.

Sagan was chief technology officer of the professional planetary research journal Icarus for twelve years. He co-founded the Planetary Society, the largest space-interest group in the world, with over 100,000 members in more than 149 countries, and was a member of the SETI Institute Board of Trustees. Sagan served as Chairman of the Division for Planetary Science of the American Astronomical Society, as President of the Planetology Section of the American Geophysical Union, and as Chairman of the Astronomy Section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

At the height of the Cold War, Sagan became involved in public awareness efforts for the effects of nuclear war when a mathematical climate model suggested that a substantial nuclear exchange could upset the delicate balance of life on Earth. He was one of five authors—the "S" of the "TTAPS" report as the research paper came to be known. He eventually co-authored the scientific paper hypothesizing a global nuclear winter following nuclear war.[14] He also co-authored the book A Path Where No Man Thought: Nuclear Winter and the End of the Arms Race, a comprehensive examination of the phenomenon of nuclear winter.

Cosmos covered a wide range of scientific subjects including the origin of life and a perspective of our place in the universe. The series was first broadcast by the Public Broadcasting Service in 1980, winning an Emmy and a Peabody Award. It has been broadcast in more than 60 countries and seen by over 500 million people,[2][15] making it the most widely watched PBS program in history.[16] In addition, Time magazine ran a cover story about Sagan soon after the show broadcast, referring to him as "creator, chief writer and host-narrator of the new public television series Cosmos, [and] takes the controls of his fantasy spaceship."[17]

Sagan also wrote books to popularize science which reflected and expanded upon some of the themes of A Personal Voyage, and became the best-selling science book ever published in English;[18] The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence, which won a Pulitzer Prize; and Broca's Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science. Sagan also wrote the best-selling science fiction novel Contact in 1985, based on a film treatment he wrote with his wife in 1979, but he did not live to see the book's 1997 motion picture adaptation, which starred Jodie Foster and won the 1998 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Adaption.

Pale Blue Dot: Earth is a bright pixel when photographed from "Voyager 1" six billion kilometers out (past Pluto). Sagan encouraged NASA to generate this image.

He wrote a sequel to Cosmos, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, which was selected as a notable book of 1995 by The New York Times. He appeared on PBS' Charlie Rose program in January 1995.[19] Sagan also wrote an introduction for the bestselling book by Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time. Sagan was also known for his popularization of science, his efforts to increase scientific understanding among the general public, and his positions in favor of scientific skepticism and against pseudoscience, such as his debunking of the Betty and Barney Hill abduction. To mark the tenth anniversary of Sagan's death, David Morrison, a former student of Sagan, recalled "Sagan's immense contributions to planetary research, the public understanding of science, and the skeptical movement" in Skeptical Inquirer.[20]

Sagan hypothesized in January 1991 that enough smoke from the 1991 Kuwaiti oil fires "might get so high as to disrupt agriculture in much of South Asia ..." He later conceded in The Demon-Haunted World that this prediction did not turn out to be correct: "it was pitch black at noon and temperatures dropped 4°–6°C over the Persian Gulf, but not much smoke reached stratospheric altitudes and Asia was spared."[21] A 2007 study noted that modern computer models have been applied to the Kuwait oil fires, finding that individual smoke plumes are not able to loft smoke into the stratosphere, but that smoke from fires covering a large area, like some forest fires or the burning of cities that would be expected to follow a nuclear strike, would loft significant amounts of smoke into the stratosphere.[22][23][24][25]

In his later years Sagan advocated the creation of an organized search for near Earth objects that might impact the Earth.[26] When others suggested creating large nuclear bombs that could be used to alter the orbit of a NEO that was predicted to hit the Earth, Sagan proposed the Deflection Dilemma: If we create the ability to deflect an asteroid away from the Earth, then we also create the ability to deflect an asteroid towards the Earth—providing an evil power with a true doomsday bomb.[27][28]

Billions and billions

Sagan with a model of the Viking Lander probes which would land on Mars. Sagan examined possible landing sites for Viking along with Mike Carr and Hal Masursky.

From Cosmos and his frequent appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, Sagan became associated with the catchphrase "billions and billions". Sagan stated that he never actually used the phrase in the Cosmos series.[29] The closest that he ever came was in the book Cosmos, where he talked of "billions upon billions":[30]

A galaxy is composed of gas and dust and stars—billions upon billions of stars.

—Carl Sagan, Cosmos, chapter 1, page 3[31]

However, his frequent use of the word billions, and distinctive delivery emphasizing the "b" (which he did intentionally, in place of more cumbersome alternatives such as "billions with a 'b'", in order to distinguish the word from "millions" in viewers' minds),[29] made him a favorite target of comic performers, including Johnny Carson,[32] Gary Kroeger, Mike Myers, Bronson Pinchot, Penn Jillette, Harry Shearer, and others. Frank Zappa satirized the line in the song "Be In My Video", noting as well "atomic light". Sagan took this all in good humor, and his final book was entitled Billions and Billions which opened with a tongue-in-cheek discussion of this catchphrase, observing that Carson himself was an amateur astronomer and that Carson's comic caricature often included real science.[29]

The popular perception of his characterization of large cosmic quantities continued to be a sense of wonderment at the vastness of space and time, as in his phrase "The total number of stars in the Universe is larger than all the grains of sand on all the beaches of the planet Earth." However, this famous saying was widely misunderstood, as he was in fact referring to the world being at a "critical branch point in history" as in the following quote from Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, Episode 8: "Journeys in Space and Time":

"Those worlds in space are as countless as all the grains of sand on all the beaches of the earth. Each of those worlds is as real as ours and every one of them is a succession of incidents, events, occurrences which influence its future. Countless worlds, numberless moments, an immensity of space and time. And our small planet at this moment, here we face a critical branch point in history: what we do with our world, right now, will propagate down through the centuries and powerfully affect the destiny of our descendants. It is well within our power to destroy our civilization and perhaps our species as well."

Sagan units

As a humorous tribute to him, a sagan has been defined as a unit of measurement equal to at least four billion, since the smallest number that may be described as billions and billions must be two billion plus two billion.[33][34]

Social concerns

Sagan believed that the Drake equation, on substitution of reasonable estimates, suggested that a large number of extraterrestrial civilizations would form, but that the lack of evidence of such civilizations highlighted by the Fermi paradox suggests technological civilizations tend to self-destruct. This stimulated his interest in identifying and publicizing ways that humanity could destroy itself, with the hope of avoiding such a cataclysm and eventually becoming a spacefaring species. Sagan's deep concern regarding the potential destruction of human civilization in a nuclear holocaust was conveyed in a memorable cinematic sequence in the final episode of Cosmos, called "Who Speaks for Earth?" Sagan had already resigned from the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board and voluntarily surrendered his top secret clearance in protest over the Vietnam War.[35] Following his marriage to his third wife (novelist Ann Druyan) in June 1981, Sagan became more politically active—particularly in opposing escalation of the nuclear arms race under President Ronald Reagan.

In March 1983, Reagan announced the Strategic Defense Initiative—a multi-billion dollar project to develop a comprehensive defense against attack by nuclear missiles, which was quickly dubbed the "Star Wars" program. Sagan spoke out against the project, arguing that it was technically impossible to develop a system with the level of perfection required, and far more expensive to build than for an enemy to defeat through decoys and other means—and that its construction would seriously destabilize the nuclear balance between the United States and the Soviet Union, making further progress toward nuclear disarmament impossible.

When Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev declared a unilateral moratorium on the testing of nuclear weapons, which would begin on August 6, 1985—the 40th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima—the Reagan administration dismissed the dramatic move as nothing more than propaganda, and refused to follow suit. In response, American anti-nuclear and peace activists staged a series of protest actions at the Nevada Test Site, beginning on Easter Sunday in 1986 and continuing through 1987. Hundreds of people were arrested, including Sagan, who was arrested on two separate occasions as he climbed over a chain-link fence at the test site.[36]

Personal life and beliefs

Sagan was married three times—in 1957, to biologist Lynn Margulis, mother of Dorion Sagan and Jeremy Sagan; in 1968, to artist Linda Salzman, mother of Nick Sagan; and in 1981, to author Ann Druyan, mother of Alexandra Rachel (Sasha) Sagan and Samuel Democritus Sagan. His marriage to Druyan continued until his death in 1996.

Isaac Asimov described Sagan as one of only two people he ever met whose intellect surpassed his own. The other, he claimed, was the computer scientist and artificial intelligence expert Marvin Minsky.[37]

Sagan wrote frequently about religion and the relationship between religion and science, expressing his skepticism about the conventional conceptualization of God as a sapient being. For example:

Some people think God is an outsized, light-skinned male with a long white beard, sitting on a throne somewhere up there in the sky, busily tallying the fall of every sparrow. Others—for example Baruch Spinoza and Albert Einstein—considered God to be essentially the sum total of the physical laws which describe the universe. I do not know of any compelling evidence for anthropomorphic patriarchs controlling human destiny from some hidden celestial vantage point, but it would be madness to deny the existence of physical laws.[38]

In another description of his view of God, Sagan emphatically writes:

The idea that God is an oversized white male with a flowing beard who sits in the sky and tallies the fall of every sparrow is ludicrous. But if by God one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God. This God is emotionally unsatisfying... it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity.[39]

Despite his criticism of religion, Sagan denied that he was an atheist, saying "An atheist has to know a lot more than I know. An atheist is someone who knows there is no god. By some definitions atheism is very stupid."[40] In reply to a question in 1996 about his religious beliefs, Sagan answered, "I'm agnostic."[41] Sagan's views on religion have been interpreted as a form of pantheism comparable to Einstein's belief in Spinoza's God.[42] Sagan maintained that the idea of a creator of the universe was difficult to prove or disprove and that the only conceivable scientific discovery that could challenge it would be an infinitely old universe.[43] According to his last wife, Ann Druyan, he was not a believer:

When my husband died, because he was so famous and known for not being a believer, many people would come up to me—it still sometimes happens—and ask me if Carl changed at the end and converted to a belief in an afterlife. They also frequently ask me if I think I will see him again. Carl faced his death with unflagging courage and never sought refuge in illusions. The tragedy was that we knew we would never see each other again. I don't ever expect to be reunited with Carl.[44]

In 2006, Ann Druyan edited Sagan's 1985 Glasgow Gifford Lectures in Natural Theology into a book, The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God, in which he elaborates on his views of divinity in the natural world.

Carl Sagan (center) speaks with CDC employees in 1988.

Sagan is also widely regarded as a freethinker or skeptic; one of his most famous quotations, in Cosmos, was, "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence"[45] (called the "Sagan Standard" by some[46]). This was based on a nearly identical statement by fellow founder of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, Marcello Truzzi, "An extraordinary claim requires extraordinary proof."[47][48] This idea originated with Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749–1827), a French mathematician and astronomer who said, "The weight of evidence for an extraordinary claim must be proportioned to its strangeness."[49]

Late in his life, Sagan's books elaborated on his skeptical, naturalistic view of the world. In The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, he presented tools for testing arguments and detecting fallacious or fraudulent ones, essentially advocating wide use of critical thinking and the scientific method. The compilation Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium, published in 1997 after Sagan's death, contains essays written by Sagan, such as his views on abortion, and his widow Ann Druyan's account of his death as a skeptic, agnostic, and freethinker.

Sagan warned against humans' tendency towards anthropocentrism. He was the faculty adviser for the Cornell Students for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. In the Cosmos chapter "Blues For a Red Planet", Sagan wrote, "If there is life on Mars, I believe we should do nothing with Mars. Mars then belongs to the Martians, even if the Martians are only microbes."[50]

Sagan was a user and advocate of marijuana. Under the pseudonym "Mr. X", he contributed an essay about smoking cannabis to the 1971 book Marihuana Reconsidered.[51][52] The essay explained that marijuana use had helped to inspire some of Sagan's works and enhance sensual and intellectual experiences. After Sagan's death, his friend Lester Grinspoon disclosed this information to Sagan's biographer, Keay Davidson. The publishing of the biography, Carl Sagan: A Life, in 1999 brought media attention to this aspect of Sagan's life.[53][54][55] Not long after his death, widow Ann Druyan had gone on to preside over the board of directors of NORML, a foundation dedicated to reforming cannabis laws.[56]

In 1994, engineers at Apple Computer code-named the Power Macintosh 7100 "Carl Sagan" in the hope that Apple would make "billions and billions" with the sale of the PowerMac 7100.[3] The name was only used internally, but Sagan was concerned that it would become a product endorsement and sent Apple a cease and desist letter. Apple complied, but engineers retaliated by changing the internal codename to "BHA" for "Butt-Head Astronomer".[57][58] Sagan then sued Apple for libel, a form of defamation, in federal court. The court granted Apple's motion to dismiss Sagan's claims and opined in dicta that a reader aware of the context would understand Apple was "clearly attempting to retaliate in a humorous and satirical way", and that "It strains reason to conclude that Defendant was attempting to criticize Plaintiff's reputation or competency as an astronomer. One does not seriously attack the expertise of a scientist using the undefined phrase 'butt-head'."[57][59] Sagan then sued for Apple's original use of his name and likeness, but again lost.[60] Sagan appealed the ruling.[60] In November 1995, an out of court settlement was reached and Apple's office of trademarks and patents released a conciliatory statement that "Apple has always had great respect for Dr. Sagan. It was never Apple's intention to cause Dr. Sagan or his family any embarrassment or concern."[61]

Sagan briefly served as an adviser on Stanley Kubrick's film 2001: A Space Odyssey.[5] Sagan proposed that the film would suggest, rather than depict, extraterrestrial superintelligence.[62]

Sagan and UFOs

Sagan had some interest in UFO reports from at least 1964 when he had several conversations on the subject with Jacques Vallee.[63] Though quite skeptical of any extraordinary answer to the UFO question, Sagan thought scientists should study the phenomenon, at least because there was widespread public interest in UFO reports.

Stuart Appelle notes that Sagan "wrote frequently on what he perceived as the logical and empirical fallacies regarding UFOs and the abduction experience. Sagan rejected an extraterrestrial explanation for the phenomenon but felt there were both empirical and pedagogical benefits for examining UFO reports and that the subject was, therefore, a legitimate topic of study."[64]

In 1966, Sagan was a member of the Ad Hoc Committee to Review Project Blue Book, the U.S. Air Force's UFO investigation project. The committee concluded Blue Book had been lacking as a scientific study, and recommended a university-based project to give the UFO phenomenon closer scientific scrutiny. The result was the Condon Committee (1966–1968), led by physicist Edward Condon, and in their final report they formally concluded that UFOs, regardless of what any of them actually were, did not behave in a manner consistent with a threat to national security.

Ron Westrum writes that "The high point of Sagan's treatment of the UFO question was the AAAS's symposium in 1969. A wide range of educated opinions on the subject were offered by participants, including not only proponents such as James McDonald and J. Allen Hynek but also skeptics like astronomers William Hartmann and Donald Menzel. The roster of speakers was balanced, and it is to Sagan's credit that this event was presented in spite of pressure from Edward Condon".[63] With physicist Thornton Page, Sagan edited the lectures and discussions given at the symposium; these were published in 1972 as UFOs: A Scientific Debate. Some of Sagan's many books examine UFOs (as did one episode of Cosmos) and he claimed a religious undercurrent to the phenomenon.

Sagan again revealed his views on interstellar travel in his 1980 Cosmos series. In one of his last written works, Sagan argued that the chances of extraterrestrial spacecraft visiting Earth are vanishingly small. However, Sagan did think it plausible that Cold War concerns contributed to governments misleading their citizens about UFOs, and that "some UFO reports and analyses, and perhaps voluminous files, have been made inaccessible to the public which pays the bills ... It's time for the files to be declassified and made generally available." He cautioned against jumping to conclusions about suppressed UFO data and stressed that there was no strong evidence that aliens were visiting the Earth either in the past or present.[65]


Stone dedicated to Carl Sagan in the Celebrity Path of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

After a long and difficult fight with myelodysplasia, which included three bone marrow transplants, Sagan died of pneumonia at the age of 62 at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, on December 20, 1996.[66] He was buried at Lakeview Cemetery in Ithaca, New York.[67]

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 of Carl Sagan, who was an Ithaca resident and Cornell Professor. Professor Sagan had been a founding member of the museum's advisory board.[68]

The landing site of the unmanned Mars Pathfinder spacecraft was renamed the Carl Sagan Memorial Station on July 5, 1997. Asteroid 2709 Sagan is named in his honor.

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.

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:

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.[70] Many members of the blogging community participated.

August 2007 the Independent Investigative Group IIG awarded Sagan posthumously a Lifetime Achievement Award. This honor has also been awarded to Harry Houdini and James Randi.[71]

Awards and honors

NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal



  1. ^ Sagan, Carl (1994). Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space (1st ed.). New York: Random House. p. 68. ISBN 0-679-43841-6. 
  2. ^ a b "StarChild: Dr. Carl Sagan". NASA. Retrieved October 8, 2009. 
  3. ^ a b Poundstone, William (1999). Carl Sagan: A Life in the Cosmos. New York: Henry Holt & Company. pp. 363–364, 374–375. ISBN 0-805-05766-8. 
  4. ^ Carl Sagan: Biographical fast facts
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Davidson, Keay; Sagan, Carl (1999). Carl Sagan: a life. Wiley. p. 168. ISBN 0-471-25286-7. 
  6. ^ a b c Spangenburg, Ray; Moser, Diane. Carl Sagan: A Biography, Greenwood Publ. (2004) pp. 2–5
  7. ^
  8. ^ Graduate students receive first Sagan teaching awards
  9. ^ Charlie Rose interview, January 5, 1994
  10. ^ Much of Sagan's research in the field of planetary science is outlined by William Poundstone. Poundstone's biography of Sagan includes an 8-page list of Sagan's scientific articles published from 1957 to 1998. Detailed information about Sagan's scientific work comes from the primary research articles. Example: Sagan, C., Thompson, W. R., and Khare, B. N. Titan: A Laboratory for Prebiological Organic Chemistry, Accounts of Chemical Research, volume 25, page 286 (1992). There is commentary on this research article about Titan at The Encyclopedia of Astrobiology, Astronomy, and Spaceflight.
  11. ^ The Columbia Encyclopedia. "Sagan, Carl Edward". Sixth Edition. Columbia University Press. Retrieved May 2, 2007. 
  12. ^ The Planetary Society. "Carl Sagan". The Planetary Society. Retrieved May 14, 2007. 
  13. ^ Gregory Benford (1997). "A Tribute to Carl Sagan: Popular & Pilloried". Skeptic (U.S. magazine) 13 (1). 
  14. ^ Turco RP, Toon OB, Ackerman TP, Pollack JB, Sagan C. Climate and smoke: an appraisal of nuclear winter, Science, volume 247, pages 166–176 (1990). PubMed abstract JSTOR link to full text article. Carl Sagan discussed his involvement in the political nuclear winter debates and his erroneous global cooling prediction for the Gulf War fires in his book, The Demon-Haunted World.
  15. ^ "Carl Sagan". EMuseum@Minnesota State University. Retrieved October 8, 2009. 
  16. ^ "CosmoLearning Astronomy". CosmoLearning. Retrieved October 8, 2009. 
  17. ^ Time magazine, cover story, Oct. 20, 1980
  18. ^ "Meet Dr. Carl Sagan". The Science Channel. Retrieved May 2, 2007. 
  19. ^ Sagan, Carl (January 5, 1995) (.SWF). Interview with Charlie Rose. Charlie Rose. PBS. New York. Retrieved April 25, 2007.  starts at 00:39:29
  20. ^ Morrison, David (2007). Man for the Cosmos: Carl Sagan's Life and Legacy as Scientist, Teacher, and Skeptic. Skeptical Inquirer January/February, 31(1), pp. 29–38.
  21. ^ Sagan, Carl (1996). The demon-haunted world: science as a candle in the dark. New York: Random House. p. 257. ISBN 0-394-53512-X. 
  22. ^ In-situ observations of mid-latitude forest fire plumes deep in the stratosphere
  23. ^ EO Newsroom: New Images — Smoke Soars to Stratospheric Heights
  24. ^ Observations of Boreal Forest Fire Smoke in the Stratosphere
  25. ^ Fromm (2006). "Smoke in the Stratosphere: What Wildfires have Taught Us About Nuclear Winter". Eos Trans. AGU 87 (52 Fall Meet. Suppl.): Abstract U14A–04. Bibcode 2006EOSTr..87...14Z. doi:10.1029/2006EO020009. 
  26. ^ Head, Tom (2006). Conversations With Carl Sagan. University Press of Mississippi. pp. 86–87. ISBN 1-578-06736-7. 
  27. ^ "David Morrison—Taking a Hit: Asteroid Impacts & Evolution". Silicon Valley Astronomy Lectures. October 3, 2007.
  28. ^ Sagan, Carl; Ostro (1994). "Long-Range Consequences of Interplanetary Collisions". Issues in Science and Technology X (4) 
  29. ^ a b c Sagan, Carl; p. 3-4 (1998). Billions and Billions. New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-37918-7. 
  30. ^ Fred R. Shapiro and Joseph Epstein (2006). "Carl Sagan". The Yale Book of Quotations. Yale University Press. pp. 660. ISBN 0-300-10798-6. 
  31. ^ Carl Sagan (1980). Cosmos. Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-33135-4. 
  32. ^ "Carl Sagan Takes Questions: More From His 'Wonder and Skepticism' CSICOP 1994 Keynote". The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. June 26, 1994. Retrieved March 25, 2010. 
  33. ^ sagan at (definition from the Jargon File)
  34. ^ William Safire, ON LANGUAGE; Footprints on the Infobahn, New York Times, April 17, 1994
  35. ^ Druyan, Ann (2000). "A New Sense of the Sacred Carl Sagan's "Cosmic Connection"". Humanist. 
  36. ^ Spangenburg, Ray; Moser, Kit; Moser, Diane (2004). Carl Sagan: a biography. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 106. ISBN 0-313-32265-1. , Chapter 8, page 106
  37. ^ Asimov, Isaac (1980). In Joy Still Felt: The Autobiography of Isaac Asimov, 1954–1978. Doubleday/Avon. pp. 217, 302. ISBN 0-380-53025-2. 
  38. ^ Sagan, Carl (February 12, 1986). "Chapter 23". Broca's Brain: Reflections on the Romance of Science. Ballantine Books. p. 330. ISBN 0345336895. 
  39. ^
  40. ^ Achenbach, Joel (April 23, 2006). "Worlds Away". Washington Post: p. W15. 
  41. ^ Head, Tom. "Conversations with Carl". Skeptic 13 (1): 32–38. Excerpted in Head, Tom, ed. (2006). University of Mississippi Press. ISBN 1-57806-736-7.. 
  42. ^ Tracy, David. "Kenosis, Sunyata, and Trinity: A Dialogue with Masao Abe." In The Emptying God: A Buddhist-Jewish-Christian Conversation, eds. John B. Cobb Jr., and Christopher Ives. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1990, pg. 52, ISBN:8170304903
  43. ^ Sagan, Carl (1996). The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. New York: Ballantine Books. p. 278. ISBN 0-345-40946-9. 
  44. ^ Druyan, Ann (November/December 2003). "Ann Druyan talks about science, religion, wonder, awe ... and Carl Sagan". Skeptical Inquirer (Committee for Skeptical Inquiry) 27 (6). ISSN 0194-6730. Retrieved July 27, 2010. 
  45. ^ "Encyclopaedia Galactica". Carl Sagan (writer/host). Cosmos. PBS. December 14, 1980. No. 12. 01:24 minutes in.
  46. ^ Hugh Rawson (2008). "Sagan's Standard". The Unwritten Laws of Life. CSBC Ltd. Retrieved Feb 15, 2011. 
  47. ^ Marcello Truzzi (1978). "On the Extraordinary: An Attempt at Clarification". Zetetic Scholar 1 (1): 11. 
  48. ^ Truzzi, Marcello (1998). "On Some Unfair Practices towards Claims of the Paranormal". Oxymoron: Annual Thematic Anthology of the Arts and Sciences, Vol.2: The Fringe. Oxymoron Media. Retrieved May 2, 2007. 
  49. ^ A sense of place in the heartland, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Online
  50. ^ Sagan, Carl (October 12, 1985). Cosmos. Ballantine Books. p. 108. ISBN 0345331354. 
  51. ^ Grinspoon, Lester (1994). Marihuana Reconsidered (2nd ed.). Oakland, CA: Quick American Archives. ISBN 0-932-55113-0. 
  52. ^ Sagan, Carl. "Mr. X". Retrieved August 7, 2009. 
  53. ^ Whitehouse, David (October 15, 1999). "Carl Sagan: A Life in the Cosmos". BBC News. Retrieved May 2, 2007. 
  54. ^ Davidson, Keay (August 22, 1999). "US: Billions and Billions of '60s Flashbacks". San Francisco Examiner. Retrieved May 2, 2007. 
  55. ^ Larsen, Dana (November 1, 1999). "Carl Sagan: Toking Astronomer". Cannabis Culture Magazine. Retrieved May 2, 2007. 
  56. ^ "Ann Druyan - NORML". ABOUT NORML. NORML and the NORML Foundation. Retrieved Jul 20, 2011. 
  57. ^ a b Poundstone, p. 364
  58. ^ "This Week in Apple History: November 14–20". The Mac Observer. 
  59. ^ Sagan v. Apple Computer, Inc., 874 F.Supp. 1072 (USDC C.D. Cal. 1994), CV 94-2180 LGB (BRx); 1994 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 20154.
  60. ^ a b Poundstone, p. 374
  61. ^ Poundstone, pp. 374–375.
  62. ^ Sagan, Carl (2000). Carl Sagan's cosmic connection: an extraterrestrial perspective (2 ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 183. ISBN 0-521-78303-8. , Chapter 25, page 183
  63. ^ a b Westrum, Ron; Jacobs, David Michael (ed.) (2000). "Limited Access: Six Natural Scientists and the UFO Phenomenon". UFOs and abductions: Challenging the Borders of Knowledge. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas. pp. 30–55. ISBN 0-700-61032-4. 
  64. ^ Appelle, Stuart; Jacobs, David Michael (ed.) (2000). "Ufology and Academia: The UFO Phenomenon as a Scholarly Discipline". UFOs and abductions: Challenging the Borders of Knowledge. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas. pp. 7–30. ISBN 0-700-61032-4. 
  65. ^ Sagan, 1996: 81–96, 99–104
  66. ^ "Carl Sagan dies at 62". CNN. Retrieved April 28, 2010. 
  67. ^ Carl Sagan at Find a Grave
  68. ^
  69. ^ "Sagan Award for Public Understanding of Science". The Council of Scientific Society Presidents. Retrieved May 2, 2007. 
  70. ^ Joel's humanistic blog: Announcing the Carl Sagan memorial blog-a-thon
  71. ^ "IIG | The IIG Awards". August 21, 2010. Retrieved July 1, 2011. 
  72. ^ "Public Welfare Award". National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 18 February 2011. 

Further reading

  • Davidson, Keay (1999). Carl Sagan: A Life. New York: John Wiley & Sons. pp. 33–41. ISBN 0471252867. 
  • Head, Tom (ed.) (2005). Conversations with Carl Sagan. Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 1578067367. 
  • Poundstone, William (1999). Carl Sagan: A Life in the Cosmos. New York: Henry Holt & Company. ISBN 0805057668. 
  • Morrison, David (2006). "Carl Sagan: The People's Astronomer" (PDF). AmeriQuests 3 (2). 
  • Achenbach, Joel (1999). Captured by Aliens: the search for life and truth in a very large universe. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-84856-2. [Includes detailed account of Sagan's role in the search for extraterrestrial life. Lay summary]. 

External links

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