December 21, 2021

#08-168: Carl Sagan's Cosmos

Carl Sagan with the model of the "Viking" reentry vehicle

Note: Few scientists have popularized science for the masses like the late Dr. Carl Sagan, and nothing he did had a bigger effect than his television series and book, Cosmos.

Get Ready: What do you know about astronomy? How did you learn it?

"The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be."

With these words astronomer and public intellectual Carl Sagan opened his award-winning thirteen-part 1980 television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.

Sagan, a longtime professor at Cornell University, wrote or edited more than 20 books (one of which won a Pulitzer Prize) and over 600 scientific papers and articles, but none has been more wildly successful than this series and its accompanying book.

Some of the cleverest parts of the show communicated difficult concepts in ways easily understood by the layperson.

Take, for example, his "Ship of the Imagination," a vessel that carries him (and us) through the universe's hundred billion galaxies, to the "Local Group " (the group of galaxies that includes our Milky Way), into the Andromeda Galaxy (the galaxy nearest our own), the Milky Way (our galaxy) and the Orion Nebula within it, our own Solar System, and finally the planet Earth.

Along the way he discusses the ancient Library of Alexandria--while walking through a computer-generated model of it--and discusses the "Cosmic Calendar," a clever graphic in which the lifespan of the universe is compared to a single year. The Big Bang happens in the first moment of January 1st; our Solar System forms on September 2nd; life appears on Earth 12 days later; and modern humans appear eight minutes before midnight on December 31st!

And all of the above was in the first episode!

Later he also covers, in a similarly engaging manner, the evolution of living forms; a history of astronomy; comets, asteroids, and the planet Mars; the journeys of the Voyager space probes in the context of the exploration of our own planet; mythological stories about the stars; stellar evolution (in one of these episodes he says, "If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe"); the Big Bang; natural and artificial intelligence; the search for intelligent life beyond the Earth; and finally, reflections on the future of humanity.

The whole series is well worth watching and rewatching.


Read more:

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. astronomer
  2. from scratch
  3. galaxy
  4. graphic
  5. humanity
  6. layperson
  7. lifespan
  8. Pulitzer Prize
  9. stellar
  10. the Big Bang

  1. a person who studies the stars and space
  2. from the very beginning
  3. a visual representation
  4. of the stars
  5. a non-professional
  6. a cluster of stars
  7. the theoretical beginning of the universe
  8. the period of time something has existed
  9. human beings as a group
  10. an American journalism award

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for December 21, 2021

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. a; 2. b; 3. f; 4. c; 5. i; 6. e; 7. h; 8. j; 9. d; 10. g