On December 10, the Secular Humanist Society of New York book club will discuss Acquiring Genomes by Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan; details here (Carl Sagan’s The Varieties of Scientific Experience has been featured in the past).
The 1964 film by Sergei Paradjanov which provided the title for Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan’s book (and whose DVD release was noted here previously) is being screened, in a new 35mm print with subtitles, at Anthology Film Archives in NYC on the 21st and 23rd. AFA’s website describes it as “[a] boldly conceived and astonishingly photographed blend of enchanting mythology, hypnotic religious iconography, and pagan magic.”
There’s a brand-new Sagan-related blog in town; topics in the 4 posts so far have ranged from the evolutionary origins of sports to neglected rocket pioneer Robert Goddard. Since Carl weighed in on a truly wide variety of topics, there should be plenty of material to blog about.
As friends of Carl Sagan you all are probably familiar with the concept solar sailing, but for those that don’t know, here is an excerpt from Mallon:
In March of 2008, I sat down in the carriage house with Friedman and two other members of his solar-sailing team: Harris “Bud” Schurmeier, the retired project manager on the old Voyager missions; and Viktor Kerzhanovich, whose long career in both Russia and America has earned him the U.S.S.R. State Prize and more than one NASA Group Achievement Award. If the Planetary Society tends to exhort its more than 50,000 members in sonorous terms, conversation in the carriage house was speculative and playful. Throughout the morning, the years fell away from the three old-timers eager to tell a visitor about how solar sailing works—and to spar a bit.
“Light has energy,” said Friedman. “That you can’t argue with.”
“More important,” said Kerzhanovich, “it has momentum.”
“Therefore it has a force,” added Friedman. “You’re using the energy of light, and the force derived thereof, to transfer momentum of light energy to your vehicle, in order to propel the spacecraft. Basically your spacecraft, your solar sail, looks like a sail, but it really is a mirror. And so it’s reflecting the light, and that reflection is where the momentum transfer occurs.” If the mirror were fixed to a wall, there would be no transfer. But in free space, with no gravity and no air pressure? You’re off to the cosmic races.
“It’s not the solar wind,” Friedman reminded me.
“Things got named wrong,” said Schurmeier. However pretty it sounds, “sailing” is really a metaphor. There is such a thing as solar wind, but as Friedman explained, “Solar wind is electrons and protons that come from the sun, and they have mass, but they go very much slower than light.”
It’s photons, not protons, that we’re talking about?
“Right,” said Friedman. “Photons have no mass, they’re all energy. You do get a force from the solar wind, but it’s about a thousand times less than the force you get from this reflection. You turn your mirror in different directions, you can point the force in any direction you want!”
You can read the whole article, for free, here.
You can also contribute to The Planetary Society by becoming a member.
As the title suggests, on LiveJournal, there’s a community called “Carl Sagan Lives On”, described as “an open community dedicated to the life, wisdom, and legacy of Carl Sagan.” It’s been running since 2003, with 94 posts in total; the number of posts has tapered off recently (only 6 posts in 2008), but maybe this post will encourage a few LiveJournal users to join up (after all, the news that Cosmos is on Hulu prompted the most recent post).
Well, the website which has become known for offering up full-length TV shows (and a few movies) for free, ad-supported viewing (with a selection including a good amount of genre shows from The Addams Family to Firefly, but very light on science shows, and no, this doesn’t count) has added the complete run of Carl Sagan’s TV series to the mix. I guess this needs no further explanation, but Hulu’s description is nice, especially the final sentence:
In 1980, the landmark series Cosmos premiered on public television. Since then, it is estimated that more than a billion people around the planet have seen it. Cosmos chronicles the evolution of the planet and efforts to find our place in the universe. Each of the 13 episodes focuses on a specific aspect of the nature of life, consciousness, the universe and time. Topics include the origin of life on Earth (and perhaps elsewhere), the nature of consciousness, and the birth and death of stars. When it first aired, the series catapulted creator and host Carl Sagan to the status of pop culture icon and opened countless minds to the power of science and the possibility of life on other worlds.
The version of the series used seems to be the same as the 2000 DVD version; it’s especially nice to have Ann Druyan’s introduction at the beginning of the first episode, as well as the 1990 updates at the end of episodes like The Edge of Forever. (I’m guessing that the DVD music changes are still in there.) And unfortunately, the website is restricted to viewers in the United States.
Man, I can remember quite a few of the home video incarnations of the series, beginning back in the 1990s with occasionally seeing the humongous boxed set of the series on VHS (sometimes with a paperback of the book thrown in for good measure) in science museum gift shops and the like; being completely overjoyed to find a fraction of the show’s run on 2-episodes-per-VHS tape at a Blockbuster; the DVD release in 2000 with gorgeous packaging, going for $100 or more; last year’s iTunes release for $1.99 an episode; and now, finally, this. I wouldn’t go quite so far as agreeing with John Scalzi’s comment that “the Internet has just justified its existence” (and the hardcore fans have a copy already, although now they won’t have to lend out their copy to friends), but it’s definitely the next step.
And of course, the news kicks off another round of Sagan fans’ reminiscing about the impact of Cosmos and Sagan (just as the iTunes release did a year ago), in blogs (I’m pointing to a blog search rather than try to pick out favorites) and comment threads like this one.
Today, to mark Carl Sagan’s birthday (he would have been 74), the WBAI radio program Equal Time for Freethought broadcast a special interview with Sagan’s widow and collaborator Ann Druyan (the half-hour interview was originally intended for a fund drive show in September, but not aired in its entirety until now). An audio permalink will be added to equaltimeforfreethought.org soon, but for now, it can be found at the WBAI archive here and also temporarily in WMA format here.
The main news is NASA’s establishment of a Sagan Fellowship to study exoplanets (planets outside the Solar System), but the conversation ranges from the profound (how to communicate the wonder of science) to the quirky (an extended discussion of what Sagan ate for breakfast). Check it out!
Cross-posted to my personal blog.
One of Carl Sagan’s more obscure movie appearances is in a video tribute to the environmental holiday produced by Time Warner in 1990. The special mixes its message with entertaining cameos by a wide array of pop culture celebrities, from Christopher Lloyd reprising his role as Doctor Emmett Brown from the Back to the Future movies to Rodney Dangerfield showing that having eco-conscious date plans are the way to get some respect.
In one segment, Sagan appears in full Cosmos explainer mode, lecturing an attentive audience on the scientific basis for understanding global warming, ozone depletion, and acid rain. The script was written by Sagan and Ann Druyan themselves, and they also penned an appropriately Cosmos-like opening narration about Earth’s place in the universe:
We have searched the skies for signals. Our spacecraft have explored dozens of exquisite worlds in the family of our sun. But as far as we’ve looked, there’s only one place in the entire universe where the miracle of life exists: our own planet Earth. Life is so rare and precious. We must safeguard, protect, and cherish it.
Sagan is also one of the scientific advisors listed in the credits.
(I’ve also posted a lengthier, but less Sagan-centric, take on the special on my personal blog.)
Check out the TCM Movie Database entry for the film. Sean Axmaker provides an excellent overview of the film, from the production history to the issues and themes involved; Sagan is described as “one of the most effective spokesmen for the advancement of science and space exploration in the world”, and the entry also includes a quote from Ann Druyan:
“Carl’s and my dream was to write something that would be a fictional representation of what contact would be like,” explains Ann Druyan, Sagan’s wife and collaborator. “But it would also have the tension inherent between religion and science, which was an area of philosophical and intellectual interest that riveted both of us.”
Each night’s worth of movies is organized by a specific decade (all the way from the 1920s to the 1990s and 2000s); it so happens that immediately before Contact on the schedule is a somewhat different 1997 alien contact science fiction film, Men in Black. Saganites have mixed opinions on the merits of MIB; Keay Davidson in his biography of Sagan dismisses it as a dumbed-down “mean-spirited bloodbath”; whereas pop-culture-savvy Nick Sagan slipped in an homage (or more precisely, an homage to an homage) to it in his short story “Tees and Sympathy”:
I thought that was clear. The reason why I’m wearing a black suit and sunglasses is because I’m homaging Men in Black.
And Phil Plait answers the question of how “a skeptical, UFO-bashing, aliens-aren’t-visiting-us-and-excoriating-cow- you-know-whats scientist-type guy” can enjoy the film in his review:
I loved this movie.
Surprised? “What’s a skeptical, UFO-bashing, aliens- aren’t-visiting-us-and-excoriating-cow-you-know-whats scientist-type guy going around saying he loves a movie whose very premise is that not only do aliens exist, but live among us?” you are asking yourself.
Well, the movie is awesome. It rocks. I laughed all the way through it. It’s funny. It’s also satirical, poking gentle but firm fun at the whole UFO and alien subculture.
(Also, for all the differences in tone, note that both films use a shot consisting of an extended zoom out from Earth to outer space to comment on humanity’s place in the universe.)