Carl Edward Sagan, born November 9, 1934, was an American scientist, physicist, biologist, astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist, writer, science popularizer, and activist. He has written over 600 scientific publications, and over 20 science and science fiction books. By highlighting both the worth and importance of humanity and the relative insignificance of the Earth compared to the Universe, Sagan’s ability to communicate his thoughts helped many people gain a deeper understanding of the cosmos. Let’s celebrate his inspirational life together.
Carl Sagan was born on November 9, 1934, in Brooklyn, New York, to a family of Ukrainian Jews. His father, Samuel Sagan, was a textile worker born in Kamenets-Podolsk, Ukraine. His mother, Rachel Molly Gruber, was a New York housewife. In 1951, Sagan graduated from high school at Rahway High School in New Jersey. During World War Two, his family was worried about the fate of his European relatives. However, Sagan was generally unaware of the details of the ongoing war. His 1996 book “The Demon-Haunted World” includes his memories of this period of conflict — when his family grappled with the realities of war and simultaneously tried to protect his optimistic spirit.
Sagan attended the University of Chicago, where he was a member of the Ryerson Astronomical Society. He graduated in 1954, and with special and general honors in science in 1955. He got a master’s degree in physics in 1956 and eventually became a doctor of astronomy and astrophysics in 1960. During his time in college, Sagan worked in a laboratory with geneticist Hermann Joseph Muller. From 1960 to 1962, he enjoyed a Miller Fellows program at the University of California at Berkeley. From 1962 to 1968, he worked at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Sagan has been linked to the U.S. space program since its inception. Since the 1950s, he has worked as an advisor to NASA, where one of his accomplishments was giving instructions to astronauts participating in the Apollo program before they departed for the Moon. Sagan took part in several missions that sent robotic spacecraft to explore the Solar System, such as preparing experiments for several of these expeditions. He conceived the idea of including a universal message on the spacecraft leaving the Solar System that could be potentially understandable by any extraterrestrial intelligence. Sagan prepared the first physical message sent to outer space: an anodized plate, docked to the Pioneer 10 space probe, launched in 1972.
Sagan’s ability to convey his ideas allowed many people to understand the cosmos, simultaneously emphasizing the value of humanity and the insignificance of Earth relating to the universe. In London, he participated in the 1977 edition of the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures. He was host, co-author, and co-producer, along with Ann Druyan and Steven Soter, of the popular 13-episode television series “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.” It was produced by P.B.S. and followed the format of the television series “Climbing of Man,” presented by Jacob Bronowski. His “Cosmos” series covered a variety of scientific topics, ranging from the origin of life to a perspective on our place in the universe.
At just four years old, Sagan goes to the New York World's Fair with his parents and falls in love with skyscrapers, science, space, and the stars.
He finishes high school and goes to college, majoring in three different science degrees.
He becomes a professor and researcher at Harvard University.
The famous series “Cosmos” premieres.
Carl Sagan dies from pneumonia.
Why We Love Carl Sagan
He tried to have marijuana legalized
Sagan advocated that marijuana use was beneficial. During an interview, Sagan said he supported the legalized use of marijuana by the terminally ill.
He believes in aliens
In 1977, two NASA spacecraft left Earth's orbit to give scientists a closer look at Jupiter and Saturn. And then these two spacecraft did something even more extraordinary: they transported a message to the universe.
He was a romantic scientist
When Druyan discovered just the right Chinese melody, a 2,500-year-old song called ‘Flowing Stream,’ she and Sagan discovered their love for each other. She telephoned Sagan with the news but had to leave a message. When he returned her call, they were on the phone for an hour. And by the time they said their goodbyes, they were engaged to be married, with no first date between them.
5 Surprising Facts
He had a cameo on “Star Trek”
The astronomer was memorialized in many popular T.V. shows and movies and in “Star Trek: Enterprise,” there is a plaque on Mars dedicated to the Carl Sagan Memorial Station.
He knew another science guy
When Bill Nye was a student at Cornell, he took a class with Sagan.
Unit of measurement
Sagan’s 'billions of billions' was later jokingly turned into a unit — a 'Sagan' is defined as a large quantity of something, at least four billion.
His famous catch phrase
His overemphasis on the ‘b’ in the word billions was deliberate, to make sure the word was not mistaken for millions.
He teaches Neil deGrasse Tyson valuable lessons
The famous astrophysicist, well known for hosting the 2014 version of the “Cosmos” series, received valuable life lessons from Sagan as a high school senior.
Carl Sagan FAQs
What was Carl Sagan's theory?
He understood that of those countless stars are suns, they might have their own planets and the universe could be teeming with life.
What is Carl Sagan most famous for?
He studied extraterrestrial intelligence, advocated for nuclear disarmament, and co-wrote and hosted the television series “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.”
What did Carl Sagan say about the Pale Blue Dot?
Sagan states: “There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
Carl Sagan’s birthday dates