A Year Science

In annual tradition, the Editors at Scientific American publish an article at the end of each year summarizing that year’s scientific developments.

‘The Year in Science’ published on December 20, 1997 starts off with the death of Carl Sagan but quickly moves to focus on his impact on science.

To quote:

The year 1997 began on a somber note, just days after the death of astronomer Carl Sagan. In many ways, though, the year’s events went on to celebrate Sagan’s life. There were steady advancements in a variety of disciplines. But perhaps the most stellar happenings of the year took place in Sagan’s own specialties, namely astronomy, cosmology and space science.

As if in tribute to Sagan, Comet Hale-Bopp blazed across the early summer skies, its fiery tail observed by the most sophisticated observatories and millions of amateurs–armed with telescopes, binoculars or the naked eye. 1997 also marked the 40th anniversary of the Space Age, which began officially when a startled world awakened to beeping signals from the Soviet Union’s Sputnik I on October 4, 1957. In the years that followed, Sagan was a pivotal in the conception and planning of unmanned space probes, many of which are still returning important data.

Two spacecraft inspired by Sagan, Voyager I and Voyager II, which were launched August 20 and September 5, 1977, arrived at halfway points in their 40 year missions. Both reached the very fringes of the solar system in 1997, and headed into interstellar space. In their first decade, these vessels returned important images and data from Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Since 1989, both have patroled the outer solar system. And in February 1998, Voyager 1 will pass the Pioneer 10 spacecraft, making it the most distant human-made object in the universe.

All of these spacecraft are equipped should they chance upon intelligent life elsewhere in the cosmos. Pioneer 10 carries Sagan’s famous plaque, which bears human greetings. And both Voyagers contain a gold record describing the location of Earth and human civilization. (Perhaps DVD compact discs, which only came to market last year, would now be more appropriate.)

To read more about Sagan’s impact on sciene in ’97, check out the Scientific American article.