A letter to Carl Sagan

 

Dear Carl,

We never met and we never will, but I wanted to let you know how much you inspire me.

Your writing is amazing. It’s both analytical and awesome; beautiful and rigorous. You famously pepper your prose with aphorisms, but what I really love is how, in the middle of a paragraph about the history of comets, you’ll drop the kind of truth bomb that makes me re-evaluate not only the phenomenon in question but also my place in the Universe. I can only hope to emulate you when I write.

“In the exhibits, on the shelves of our museum are the fragments of distant worlds.”

-Carl Sagan, Cosmos, p108

But the inspiration I draw from you goes further than just your writing. Your research into extraterrestrial life at the SETI institute laid the foundations for modern astrobiology, a field very close to my heart. You made the study of life in the Universe the realm of real science, not just science fiction. Thank you.

And until we find more intelligent beings elsewhere, we are ourselves the most spectacular of all the transformations – the remote descendants of the Big Bang, dedicated to understanding and further transforming the Cosmos from which we spring.

-Carl Sagan, Cosmos, p33

And I know I’m not the only person you inspired. Both Bill Nye and Neil Degrasse Tyson, two of the biggest names in science communication today, talk about the formative influence you had on their careers. Bill Nye was your student and Neil Degrasse Tyson often fondly recounts how you took him around Cornell.

While I can hardly claim the kind of prominence that Bill and Neil enjoy and I am surely one of thousands of lives you changed, we do have something in common. We both worked on Royal Institution Christmas Lectures on the topic of space.

When I graduated from University and was faced with the prospect of choosing a career, I asked myself what I enjoyed doing most. The answer I came to was “being curious” and, thanks in part to you, I found out that it might be possible to do that professionally.

I’m definitely still finding my way, but aren’t we all?

 

It is [on Earth] that we are, in some pain and with no guarantees, working out our destiny.

-Carl Sagan, Cosmos, p25

 

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