When people talk about Carl Sagan, he is usually remembered for being the host of the Cosmos, the show that introduced thousands of young people and adults to the world of science. However, the astrophysicist was not only dedicated to promoting science but also made great contributions to the field of space physics.
The most important science promoter in history
Carl Edward Sagan was born on November 9, 1934, in Brooklyn, New York. He studied physics at the University of Chicago and obtained his doctorate in astronomy and astrophysics in 1960. It was precisely in that decade when he launched one of his first investigations that helped to better understand the atmospheric dynamics of the planets of the Solar System.
At that time, researchers did not understand how Mars could be such a cold planet while Venus was extremely hot. It was thanks to Sagan that he successfully confirmed that Venus could behave like an oven due to the greenhouse effect. To reach his conclusion, Sagan used data from the engineering study of steam boilers.
But Carl’s astute mind led him down paths that at the time were not recognized by science; the belief in extraterrestrial intelligence. Throughout the history of science, there has been a huge taboo when it comes to off-planet life, and even worse is the belief that technologically advanced civilizations could exist.
Today they are still taboo, but there is already a greater openness to the unknown, and there is a hint of abandoning the idea of anthropocentrism in this vast universe. NASA and other governmental institutions, such as the Pentagon, have already openly admitted to studying the UFO phenomenon. However, at the time Sagan lived, the taboo was so great that it is believed that for this reason, in 1971, Harvard University denied tenure to the scientist.
From then on and throughout his future career, Carl Sagan became a faculty member at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. It was during these years that the astrophysicist developed his greatest legacy by participating in the U.S. space program.
Sagan’s message to the stars
He contributed to the Mariner, Viking, Galileo, and Voyager space missions. On the Viking mission, where probes were sent to the planet Mars, Sagan helped decide the best landing site on the Martian sediment.
But in addition to his great teachings through Cosmos (not only scientific, but even philosophical reflections), the astrophysicist left a legacy that surpasses all of the above, and that is his message that still continues to travel through interstellar space.
He was in charge of creating a plaque with a strong message that summarizes the essence of the human being, which was placed on the Pioneer mission, which is now far beyond in interstellar space. But later, he surpassed his feat and sent another message to the stars aboard Voyager, the human spacecraft that has traveled the farthest distance of all.
Voyager carries a gold disk designed by Sagan containing 116 images depicting historical scientific works, as well as depictions of human beings performing everyday activities. Art was not left out, and Sagan included works by Mozart, Beethoven, and Chuck Berry, as well as greetings in 55 different languages.
Sagan’s legacy is so great that it will not fade away even if our planet meets its end. He will transcend wandering in the infinite universe, and who knows, maybe someday it will be found by intelligent beings in the far reaches of the cosmos.
Story originally published in Spanish in Ecoosfera