Carl Sagan

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Carl Sagan (1980)
Signature of Carl Sagan
Voyager Golden Record cover with interstellar instructions for use
Voyager Golden Record - data disk with picture and sound information
The "family portrait" or "portrait of the planets" produced on Sagan's proposal (collage of 60 individual images, taken by the Voyager 1 space probe on February 14, 1990 from a distance of around 40.5  AU (approx. 6 billion km))

Carl Edward Sagan (born November 9, 1934 in Brooklyn , New York City , † December 20, 1996 in Seattle , Washington ) was an American astronomer , astrophysicist , exobiologist , television presenter , non-fiction author and writer .


Carl Sagan was the son of a Jewish family: his father immigrated from Podolia in the west of what is now Ukraine . Sagan attended Rahway High School, studied at the University of Chicago and received his doctorate in 1960 with Gerard Peter Kuiper .

Carl Sagan married three times: 1957 the biologist Lynn Margulis (1938–2011, mother of Dorion Sagan), who became famous through the endosymbiont theory , 1968 the artist Linda Salzman (* 1940, mother of Nicholas Sagan ), 1981 Ann Druyan (* 1949, Co- Author of some of his books, the television series Cosmos and the motion picture Contact, based on a model by Sagan ). He stayed married to the latter until his death: after a long illness from myelodysplasia , Sagan died at the age of 62. The posthumously published book God and the Dripping Faucet (US-American title: Billions and Billions ) contains some of his last texts and it ends with a text by his wife: She describes Sagan and his last days in a very personal way.


Carl Sagan pioneered exobiology and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence ( SETI ). He was a professor and laboratory director at Cornell University and has contributed to most of the unmanned space missions that have explored our solar system . His idea was to attach a peaceful message from humanity to a spaceship, which could be understood by an extraterrestrial intelligence. He realized this message with the golden data plate Voyager Golden Record on the space probes Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 .

He wrote and hosted the thirteen-part television series Unser Kosmos ( Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, first broadcast in Germany on June 14, 1983), which received the Peabody Award and Emmy , and for which there have been several revisions with improved computer animations , most recently in 2005 the book of the same name, which was on the New York Times bestseller list for over 70 weeks , making it the best-selling English-language (science) book. Sound clips from the series were used for the sampling A Glorious Dawn , which was released as a single in 2009 as part of the music project Symphony of Science by John D. Boswell on the occasion of Sagan's 75th birthday. As part of a celebration of the record label Third Man Records , this single was played seven years later with a special construction called Icarus Craft in the stratosphere .

Sagan also wrote popular science books such as The Dragons of Eden , for which he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction in 1978 , and the novel Contact , which was adapted in 1997 with Jodie Foster in the film Contact . The film ends with the text For Carl ("For Carl") displayed . For the Encyclopædia Britannica he wrote the two articles "Life" and "Extraterrestrial Life".

Sagan was a founding member of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), a member of the Skeptics Society , co-founder and first president of the Planetary Society , chairman of the Division of Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society , president of the division of planetary science of the American Geophysical Union , chairman of the astronomy division of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and twelve-year editor of Icarus , a planetary research magazine. In the 1960s, Carl Sagan was a member of an advisory committee of the United States Air Force that evaluated the Project Blue Book .

The “ paradox of the weak young sun ” and a first interpretation of it go back to Sagan . He pointed to essential questions of the climate and particularities of the origin of life on earth. Sagan was also politically active, especially at the time of the Vietnam War and later against President Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative . With reference to the Drake equation, Sagan considered life outside the earth to be entirely possible and explained the Fermi paradox with a tendency for technical civilizations to self-destruct.

At Sagan's suggestion, after completing its primary mission objectives , the Voyager 1 spacecraft was rotated 180 degrees and took a series of images in February 1990 from approximately 6 to 7 billion kilometers from the Sun with an overhead view of our solar system on: The resulting collage shows from left to right: Jupiter , the earth , Venus , the sun , Saturn , Uranus and Neptune . In the picture taken here with the greatest distance from Earth to date, the planet appears as a “ Pale Blue Dot ” (PBD, English for “pale blue dot”), which led to the corresponding title of the picture.

Sagan was also involved in the Arecibo message sent on November 16, 1974 to the globular cluster M13 , some 25,000 light-years from Earth .


" Pale Blue Dot ": The earth as a "pale blue dot"
single image of the "family portrait" by Voyager 1 , click on the image to see it

The Russian-American biochemist , nonfiction author and science fiction - writer Isaac Asimov said that he had met only two people he thought were smarter than himself Carl Sagan was one of these people have been (the others. Marvin Minsky ).

The lander for the Mars Pathfinder Mission was renamed the Carl Sagan Memorial Station in 1997 in honor of Carl Sagan .

The asteroid (2709) Sagan , discovered by Edward L. G. Bowell on March 21, 1982, is named after Sagan .

The Carl Sagan Memorial Award is presented in honor of Sagan .

A foundation by the actor Seth MacFarlane enabled the Library of Congress to digitize and publish archival material, photos, letters and documents by Carl Sagan.

In 2015, the Carl Sagan Institute: Pale Blue Dot and Beyond was founded at the American private university Cornell University , and the Austrian astronomer and astrophysicist Lisa Kaltenegger is its director.


Fonts (selection)

  • With Jonathan Norton Leonard: The Planets. Rowohlt, Reinbek near Hamburg 1970, ISBN 3-499-18011-1 .
  • With Jerome Agel: Neighbors in the cosmos: life and life possibilities in the universe. Kindler, Munich 1975, ISBN 3-463-00623-5 .
  • ... and you will be like gods - the miracle of human intelligence. Droemer Knaur, Munich 1980, ISBN 3-426-03646-0 .
  • Nuclear war and climate catastrophe. Droemer Knaur, Munich 1984, ISBN 3-426-03764-5 .
  • Contact . Droemer Knaur, Munich 1986, ISBN 3-426-60765-4 .
  • Our cosmos - a journey through space. New edition. Droemer Knaur, Munich 1991, ISBN 3-426-04053-0 .
  • With Ann Druyan: Creation in installments: New insights into the history of human development. Droemer Knaur, Munich 1995, ISBN 3-426-77171-3 .
  • The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. Random House, 1996. ISBN 039453512X .
    • German edition: The dragon in my garage or The art of science to expose nonsense. Droemer Knaur, Munich 2000, ISBN 3-426-26912-0 .
  • Blue point in space. Our home universe. Bechtermünz, Eltville 2000, ISBN 3-8289-3401-3 .
  • God and the Dripping Faucet: Thoughts on Man and the Cosmos. Droemer Knaur, Munich 2001 ISBN 3-426-27102-8 .


Web links

Commons : Carl Sagan  - album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ David W. Swift: SETI pioneers - scientists talk about their search for extraterrestrial intelligence. University of Arizona Press, Tucson 1990, ISBN 0-8165-1119-5 . P. 213.
  2. David Brand: Carl Sagan, Cornell astronomer, dies today (Dec. 20) in Seattle. At: December 20, 1996, accessed May 12, 2010.
  3. Obituary. Carl Sagan… At: December 21, 1996, accessed May 12, 2010.
  5. Carl Sagan. At:
  6. Manon Steiner: Music from space. Jack White plays the first record in space. At: August 1, 2016, accessed August 9, 2016.
  7. ^ David W. Swift: SETI Pioneers. Scientists talk about their search for extraterrestrial intelligence. University of Arizona Press, Tucson 1990, ISBN 0-8165-1119-5 . "I was on the air force scientific adv. Board committee that looked into the project blue book, the air force project that handled ufo reports." P. 218.
    Special report of the USAF scientific advisory board ad hoc committee to review project "Blue Book ". March 1966. At: Retrieved May 12, 2010.
  8. Solar System Portrait - 60 Frame Mosaic. ( Memento from October 28, 2016 in the Internet Archive ). At:
  9. Emily Lakdawalla, Charlene Anderson: Twenty years since Voyager's last view. February 12, 2010, accessed August 9, 2014 .
  10. Experts Pick: Top 10 Space Science Photos. ( Memento of July 6, 2008 in the Internet Archive ). At: September 25, 2001.
  11. In Depth. Mars Pathfinder. In: NASA Solar System Exploration. April 2, 2018, accessed July 16, 2019 .
  12. ^ Extensive archive about Carl Sagan online. At: February 5, 2014, accessed January 2, 2018.
  13. ^ The Seth MacFarlane Collection of the Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan Archive. (PDF; 713 kB). At: Retrieved February 6, 2014.
  14. Linda Glaser: Introducing: Carl Sagan Institute: Pale Blue Dot and Beyond. At: May 14, 2015, accessed October 28, 2016.
  15. ^ Member History: Carl Sagan. American Philosophical Society, accessed February 6, 2019 .