As you may have noticed around the Internet today, various blogs and news outlets are honoring the birthday of Carl Sagan (November 9, 1934 – December 20, 1996).
I’m sure some readers, now in their teens and twenties, have never heard his distinctive voice, or seen his masterwork, the television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, or read one of his many books, or even seen the movie Contact based on a Sagan novel. That’s why he needs to be remembered publicly by those of us who grew up with his optimistic smile, his sense of awe at the wonders of the universe, and his unaffected ability to communicate the most difficult but important themes of science.
He was a scientist; he showed his chops in astronomy, astrochemistry, and ultimately pioneering exobiology at schools like Harvard and Cornell. When he became an advocate of science, often championing areas such as the search for extraterrestrial life, scientific skepticism, and scientific humanism, those who disagreed with him tried to turn the description of what he did best – popularize science – into a pejorative. It couldn’t stick. He was ever the real scientist with a gift for communicating and enlivening every subject he touched. He will be remembered for his work, both scientific and popular, for a long time.
For a good backgrounder, check out the Wikipedia entry on Carl Sagan. [Wikipedia: Carl Sagan]