Weekend Diversion: Celebrate the Universe ― and Carl Sagan ― with me!

"History is full of people who out of fear, or ignorance, or lust for power has destroyed knowledge of immeasurable value which truly belongs to us all. We must not let it happen again." -Carl Sagan

From the streets and people of our hometown to the nations, planets, stars and galaxies (and beyond) of our Universe, there's an immensity of knowledge to be gained from a single human lifetime, if only we have the courage to let go of our preconceptions and discover it. Laura Viers might tell you that in her own way in her 2005 song,


But no one is born with this knowledge; it takes hard work, critical thinking and scientific literacy to get there.

Galaxy Cluster MS1054-03; Image credit: ESA / NASA, Pieter van Dokkum, and Marijn Franx.

For me, personally, it took decades of challenging the way I perceived the Earth, the Solar System, the galaxy, and eventually, the entire Universe, before I eventually arrived at the picture I have today.

But even the longest journey begins with a single step, and one of the most important ones I ever took was when I happened to pick out an old, dusty, forgotten book off of my parents' bookshelf as a teenager.

I think you know where this is headed.

Yes, I was always very strong at math and science, and I was also always very skeptical of claims that seemed to be made without adequate supporting evidence. But reading through this book -- which I later learned was a companion to the even-more spectacular television series -- was an inspiration to learn all about not just what we know in the Universe, but how we know it.

I've been working very hard to do exactly that, which means continually revising and refining my conception of things, as well as to share it with you; that's what this blog is all about! But I'm about to get a chance to share in something very exciting, with many others who are passionate about the same exact thing.

Image credit: the Carl Sagan Day website, http://carlsaganday.com/.

This November 10th, I'll be in Ft. Lauderdale as a featured guest at the 4th annual Carl Sagan Day, which is free and open to all comers; if you're at all in the area (or can get there), I'd love to see you! Here's the google maps address, so mark your calendars and join me if you can!

If you're wondering what Carl Sagan Day is all about, here's a little bit of info about what to expect.

Image credit: Ginny M, of Carl Sagan's grave in Lakeview Cemetary, Ithaca, NY.

On the Saturday closest to November 9th -- Carl's birthday -- every year, James Randi (yes, that James Randi), advocate of critical thinking and promoter of sound scientific investigation, who was a close friend of Carl Sagan, sets up a celebration of Carl's life, legacy and joys, many of which we all share. There will be:

  • Presentations,
  • Posters and Awards,
  • Displays and Activities,
  • Scientists from NASA, the Planetary Society, as well as Randi himself,
  • as well as Teacher workshops and Kids' activities, plus
  • a Dinner with the Stars the night before, for those of you who can attend that, too!

It will be my first time meeting James Randi in person, although he's someone I've admired from afar for some time, and my first time back in Florida in a number of years. Needless to say, I'm very excited about the whole thing! And although I'm very different from Carl Sagan in a number of ways, we have some undeniably important things in common.

Image credit: The Funkoars album cover (L), and the 2011 West Coast Beard & Moustache Championships (R).

A love for the Universe, for learning, for knowing, and for sharing that knowledge with the world. I hope you'll be able to join me there!


More like this

What naffed me off most about Cosmos is that it wasn't available in Region 2 for YEARS.

No reason, just "Don't wanna".

Copyright allows this.

And it's copyright that allows (indeed rewards) destruction of knowledge. If you don't remove the previous stuff, you can't sell the new, and you have to do BETTER to get people to buy.


I understand but that is not the fault of the series. Those 13 episodes changed my life. If the studio was being unreasonable blame them.

A bad word can not be said of that series. period

It is the fault of the Sagan estate, though.

And, given the quote from Carl at the beginning, rather hypocritical.

I got to hear Carl Sagan live once. This would have been December 1995, at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. He wasn't at his best (conference talks are for a quite different audience from the general public, and he was probably feeling the effects of the cancer that would take his life about a year later), but it was interesting to hear him in person.

@Wow: You'll get no argument from me that current copyright laws are an abomination (among other things, they will have the side effect of causing us to lose much of our cultural history from the last hundred years), but you haven't presented enough evidence to prove that the Sagan estate is to blame for Cosmos being unavailable in your region. Did they turn away a willing distributor? I assume that they would want to work with a distributor, since the lawyers would not have the expertise to market videos outside the US. I can't blame them for waiting for a distributor to negotiate a contract with them before making videos available in other parts of the world. If they did turn away a willing distributor offering reasonable terms, then shame on them. ("Hypocritical" is also not the right word here: the lawyers are supposed to run the estate as specified in the will, so unless Sagan specified otherwise in the will--which presumably is not the source of the quote at the top of the OP--they would have latitude to not release video until and unless they had a negotiated agreement with a distributor.)

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 15 Oct 2012 #permalink

FACT: "Turner Home Entertainment purchased Cosmos from series producer KCET in 1989... making the move to commercial television... a 14th episode was added which consisted of an interview between Sagan and Ted Turner, and this "new" version of the series was eventually released...
... Cosmos had long been unavailable after its initial release because of copyright issues with the included music" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmos:_A_Personal_Voyage

OPINION: These wikipedia remarks could be interpreted as Ted Turner used his deep pockets to eventually solve the copyright issues which neither Carl Sagan nor KCET could afford to solve.
However, this is just my opinion.

Thus the following statement, expressly stated or implied to be factual
FACTUAL STATEMENT--- "It is the fault of the Sagan estate... and..rather hypocritical"
may be a false.

- "was false"
- "caused harm"
- " was made without adequate research into the truthfulness of the statement"
And for a Celebrity (e.g. Carl Sagan)
- "was made with the intent to do harm or with reckless disregard for the truth"

OPINION: And without EVIDENCE to the contrary, I give Carl Sagan and the Carl Sagan estate the benefit of the doubt. It is my opinion that Carl Sagan's intention was for the Cosmos TV series (like the book based on the TV show) to be available worldwide as soon as possible.

Cosmos, by Carl Sagan published 1980 in US (and soon thereafter worldwide)
e.g. Unser Kosmos : Eine Reise durch das Weltall, by Carl Sagan, Publisher: München, Droemer'sche Verlagsanstalt Th.Knaur Nachf, 1982

FACT: Carl Sagan was a great worldwide science educator.

That sounds like such a great celebration.
Have a great time presenting, participating, meeting folks and especially meeting James Randi.

Carl Sagan Day may be the closest thing we have to a Science Holiday.
Or so I thought.
I checked and found 10 Science Holidays http://io9.com/5878224/10-science-holidays-to-get-your-geek-on

Anyway, have a great time. I am jealous.

I'm awaiting the results of the 'beardoff' between you and Randi. Good luck, his is pretty formidable.

"FACTUAL STATEMENT— “It is the fault of the Sagan estate… and..rather hypocritical” may be a false."

If it may be false, then it is probably true.

"Did they turn away a willing distributor?"

They made it region 1.

Change it to region 0 and all is fine. Or at least as fine as it can be when you have distribution wars.

Change it to region 0 and all is fine.

According to the above linked Wikipedia page, it was released as region 0 in 2000. There is no mention of any earlier DVD release. However, it was in NTSC format, which may not have been compatible with TV sets worldwide.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 15 Oct 2012 #permalink

Yup, in 2000 it was released as RC0.

But it was released earlier under RC1 and the updated version (with the updates on how the series stood up to time) only released under RC2 in 2010 (may have been 2009).

I could have just ripped the DVD or got a torrent, but both would be considered illegal, even though it is a civil tort.

Of course, the dumbest one was Paint Your Wagon coming out on RCE2 (a stronger attempt to keep region coding). Given they were still at that time saying it was to protect the cinema revenue (of Paint Your Wagon?), rather obviously lying.

Most UK sets are OK with NTSC because they're basically Japanese. The DVD usually does a conversion (IIRC this has to be done for the French system) but not necessarily a good one.

It was likely that region coding it wasn't even thought of. It's only when some well sought after UK titles under RC2 come out first that region coding limits gets an airing on the media stage.

The schadenfreude isn't enough to make up for the annoyance, though.

"The (Cosmos) series was first broadcast by the Public Broadcasting Service in 1980... Cosmos was produced in 1978 and 1979 by Los Angeles PBS affiliate KCET on a roughly $6.3 million budget, with over $2 million additionally allocated to promotion.. (The BBC – a co-producer of Cosmos — later screened the series, but episodes were cut to fit 50-minute slots.) " (versus 60 minute US segments) wikipedia

"Physicist Brian Cox tells Matthew Parris how Carl Sagan's Cosmos tv show changed his life. As a young boy of 13, Brian Cox stared at his television screen every Wednesday evening, as Carl Sagan took him on a journey across the Cosmos."
British particle physicists Brian Cox was born in Mar 3, 1968

So the original Cosmos TV series was boradcasts around the world by the BBC!! http://ctva.biz/UK/BBC/Documentary/Cosmos.htm

"With the original series (of Cosmos) developed as a non-commercial broadcast for public television in 1980, a variety of music could and was used, ranging from from classical, ethnical and traditional music, to Vangelis synthesized pieces.

"This changed when in 1986 on occasion of Halley's comet Carl Sagan wanted to redo the original series and focus more on the astronomical subjects. With the status of Cosmos changing to a commercial product, this posed some difficulty due to the legal rights of the music used in the series. THEREFOR THE MUSIC HAD TO BE CHANGED IN PLACES WHERE COPYRIGHT MUSIC WAS HEARD THAT COULDN'T BE CLEARED. In it's place, Vangelis provided completely new music, most of which can only be heard in this version of the series... The revisited series was broadcast as 'Cosmos, a special edition'.

"When in 1989 the producers wanted to release the original series commercially on VHS and Laser Disc, again the legal rights of the music made it a difficult process. Visually this release is mostly the same as the original version, but some of the music in the original version was replaced with other music.

"Then in 2000 Carl Sagan's widow Ann Druyan put much effort in arranging a final edition of the series on both VHS and DVD. This release has been digitally remastered, restored and enhanced, both in audio and video. Next to that it contains additional 'science update' sequences as recorded in 1990 with Carl Sagan." http://www.vangelismovements.com/cosmosseries.htm

Thus the reason for the delay in release of Cosmos was that COPYRIGHT MUSIC COULDN'T BE CLEARED. i.e.The music was fair use for public TV's educational purpose; but needed clearance to be commercially sold.

The reason for the eventual release of the Cosmos TV series was that "Carl Sagan's widow Ann Druyan (i.e. the Sagan estate) put much effort in arranging a final edition of the series"

Carl Sagan IMHO did more for popularizing science and astronomy than any other person of 20th century. He was a scientist/philosopher, a breed which is almost extinct nowdays.

This is my part of Cosmos series, and one of the most profound passage from his book. He put so much in so few sentences that every time I read or hear that passage, it brings tears to my eyes.


By Sinisa Lazarek (not verified) on 15 Oct 2012 #permalink

Though he did a few weird things (going to Cambridge or whatever to get an apple pie made for him so he can have a google not written on a loo roll being the peak of it), he didn't go as daft as Cox on Mysteries of the Universe (going to the Sahara to fly a kite!).

It held up well I think as much because it chose the right set of knowledge that could work with the greatest number of people, therefore stayed away from the cutting edge. He also wisely (though some missed it) made as clear as he could where he was making mere conjecture.

Wouldn't get made today: too long when you add all the adverts needed on US TV now..!

@Wow "Most UK sets are OK with NTSC because they’re basically Japanese. The DVD usually does a conversion (IIRC this has to be done for the French system) but not necessarily a good one."

If by that you mean 525 line 30 frames per second digitised and sent over HDMI you might have a chance, but I would be amazed if there is a snowball in hell's chance of getting a PAL set to display an NTSC signal in black and white, let alone colour. Remember these standards were originally devised to cleverly use the spare bandwidth in a black and white TV signal to encode colour information in such a way that B&W sets would still work

Wouldn’t get made today: too long when you add all the adverts needed on US TV now..!

Maybe, maybe not. I don't think the US audience is as dismal as you imply. Planet Earth did okay over here. Morgan Freeman is on year three of his "Through the Wormhole" series. Something like Cosmos might not get made, but its far from a certain outcome; there IS a US market for science/nature miniseries.

oh, not the audience. the cable execs.

1. they're smart, therefore everyone else is dumb (else they'd be cable execs too!)
2. Adverts every ten minutes (else they won't be able to get as much revenue, justifying how smart they are by the size of the bonus!)

Inception shows that a US audience can handle complicated.

MI-2 shows that they will be talked down to.

A new cosmos made in the USA would have to be less than 33 minutes long and would have to fight to get that much.

Besides, smart programs get watched by smart people, and they're a harder target for the advertisers, even though they tend to have more disposable income (and dispose of it). Best avoid bankrolling it, eh?

David, remember that there's very little electronics to add PAL *and* NTSC decoding on a signal for a TV.

Maybe at the cheap end (even then my 17" LCD TV will handle PAL and NTSC.

Mind you, with Never The Same Colour, it would probably be better to view it in black and white!

"A bad word can not be said of that series. period"

So much for critical thinking.

Words from Ann Druyan (Carl Sagan's wife)

"When my husband died, because he was so famous and known for not being a believer, many people would come up to me-it still sometimes happens-and ask me if Carl changed at the end and converted to a belief in an afterlife. They also frequently ask me if I think I will see him again. Carl faced his death with unflagging courage and never sought refuge in illusions. The tragedy was that we knew we would never see each other again. I don't ever expect to be reunited with Carl. But, the great thing is that when we were together, for nearly twenty years, we lived with a vivid appreciation of how brief and precious life is. We never trivialized the meaning of death by pretending it was anything other than a final parting. Every single moment that we were alive and we were together was miraculous-not miraculous in the sense of inexplicable or supernatural. We knew we were beneficiaries of chance. . . . That pure chance could be so generous and so kind. . . . That we could find each other, as Carl wrote so beautifully in Cosmos, you know, in the vastness of space and the immensity of time. . . . That we could be together for twenty years. That is something which sustains me and it’s much more meaningful. . . . The way he treated me and the way I treated him, the way we took care of each other and our family, while he lived. That is so much more important than the idea I will see him someday. I don't think I'll ever see Carl again. But I saw him. We saw each other. We found each other in the cosmos, and that was wonderful."


It's not uncommon, either, at least for those who have never been put under a religious meme, either by seeing right through it or having a significant enough group of similarly atheistic people around them.

Being worried about dying isn't the same as praying for an afterlife. Nobody looks forward to dying, especially when it is imminent.

And it's better to live THIS life, the only one you know you have, to its fullest extent than to hope you get a second chance to do it right.

Religions treat life like a dress rehearsal...

The entire Cosmos series is available on Hulu for free. There are commercials but I hope nothing is deleted.


My cat, who never paid attention to anything else on TV, was fascinated by Cosmos. He sat looking up at the white dots representing stars and occasionally reached to touch them.