The universe has now been without Carl Sagan for ten years. In honor of this man's enduring influence, blogger Joel Schlosberg is promoting a Sagan blog-a-thon, which I discovered only last night via Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy Blog. Since Sagan's thoughts had a profound influence upon me during my formative years, I could hardly let this pass without joining in, at least in a small way.
My obsession with all things astronomical pre-dated my introduction to Carl Sagan's writings by many years. Despite this, I had to be goaded into watching his 13-part Cosmos by my mother when it first aired. As I recall, this pre-teen was already jaded by the hype surrounding the show and naively believed that no mere popular show could be worthwhile for a self-proclaimed expert like me. The show was already several weekly episodes old before I gave in. I was immediately hooked — and immediately humbled.
Sagan's knack for communicating the wonder of the universe went beyond any single field of science, which makes him unique amongst modern science popularizers. He could talk about the the formation of the known universe and the spectacle of the Big Bang, effortlessly glide into discussions of the puzzles of the human brain, then take off again into the realm of cells, genetics, DNA and the ultimate mystery of life itself. Amidt this, he would remind us of the potential nuclear holocaust that for so long threatened to extinguish all these wonders on this tiny planet — this "pale blue dot."
Sagan would never let us forget how awe-inspiring the universe is and our miniscule place in it. But he would also never let us forget the joy and wonder of our existence. His presence is missed, but his influence will live on for a long time to come.