Badass Scientist of the Week: Dr. Carl Sagan
Carl Sagan (1934–1996) was an astronomer, a skeptic, a science communicator and—to many—a poet. As a child he was fascinated with the stars, and this deep sense of wonder at the universe never abated all throughout his adult life. He studied at the University of Chicago, achieving his doctorate in astronomy and astrophysics by 1960, and over the next ten years, he held teaching and research posts at various universities and observatories. In 1970, he became director of Cornell University’s Laboratory for Planetary Studies and the David Duncan Professor of Astronomy and Space Sciences. At the same time, he played a leading role as a consultant at NASA, briefing the Apollo astronauts and being closely associated with unmanned planetary missions too, most notably the Mariner, Viking, Voyager, and Galileo expeditions. His research transformed planetary science, helping to solve mysteries such as the high temperatures of Venus, the seasonal changes of Mars and the reddish haze of Titan, and he also was a pioneer of the study of extraterrestrial life—but Carl is best known as a science communicator. In his award-winning books and his enormously popular 1980 TV series Cosmos, he captured the hearts and minds of millions with his easy charisma, his ability to explain difficult concepts, and his infectious wonder for the universe. His insights about our fragile world live on today as his legacy, and the way he continues to change the public’s perception of science is perhaps his greatest achievement—showing us that examining our universe using natural curiosity and the tools of science is a joyous, awe-inspiring endeavour. Happy birthday, Carl, and thank you for everything you’ve given us.