Today, I attended an event at the Library of Congress to celebrate Carl Sagan and the Library’s newly acquired collection of his papers, notebooks, and correspondences made possible by a generous donation from none other than Seth MacFarlane. Yes, that Seth MacFarlane.
The connection is not as farfetched as it might seem. MacFarlance is a self-professed geek who is currently producing an updated version of Carl Sagan’s famous “Cosmos” series with geek-god Neil deGrasse Tyson. Additionally, MacFarlane has stated on more than one occasion that Sagan influenced his life and his thoughts on our exploration of the Universe: “The work of Carl Sagan has been a profound influence in my life, and the life of every individual who recognizes the importance of humanity’s ongoing commitment to the exploration of our universe.” Similarly, ”the continuance of our journey outward into space should always occupy some part of our collective attention, regardless of whatever Snooki did last week.”
The program was filled with talk after talk by people who knew Sagan, worked with him, or were mentored by him. Each speaker might have laid out different facts of their interactions with Sagan, but their stories were all the same. He was one of a kind in his ability to talk to people of all ages and backgrounds and inspire in them the desire to know more about where we came from. He dedicated his life to sharing the wonder of nature, the process of science, and the excitement of discovery with the world. There may never be another like him, but of all the “billions and billions” of people who have walked the Earth, he’s the one I want to emulate the most. It was an absolute privilege to attend today’s event.
I can’t then think of a more fitting time for NASA to reveal its updated version of the seminal “pale blue dot” photo. The original was taken in 1990 by the Voyager 1 spacecraft as it passed beyond the planets of our Solar System. This new photo was taken this summer by the Cassini spacecraft in orbit around Saturn. Normally, Cassini doesn’t point towards Earth as the Sun is so bright and so close to Earth from that distance that it would damage the spacecraft’s instruments. However, this past July, the Sun passed behind Saturn from Cassini’s point of view and this image above was captured. Click on it and zoom in to find our home beyond the glow of Saturn’s E ring. Still just a pale blue dot in the vastness of space. “That’s here. That’s home. That’s us.”