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A Brief Summary Of Carl Sagan’s Teaching And Activity

How many of you have seen the film Contact directed by Robert Zemekis, starring Jodie Foster, or read the homonymous science fiction novel by Carl Sagan which inspired the movie? Both the book and the novel describe a hypothetical first contact between humans and aliens and the related ethical and religious implications, as well as in general dealing with of the relationship between faith and science. But who was Carl Sagan?
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Carl Sagan was born on November 9th, 1934 in Brooklyn, New York. At the age of 7 he went to the library to find out what the stars were, and this anecdote testifies that from an early age he began to be very curious about everything related to space and astronomy.

In 1956 he graduated in physics, and then specialized in astrophysics at the University of Chicago, where he earned his PhD in 1960.

He was one of the founders of exobiology, a branch of astronomy that deals with the search for life in space, from the identification of the prerequisites for its birth, to the possible environments for its evolution and maintenance.

He was one of the greatest supporters and popularizers of SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), the program aimed to search of extraterrestrial intelligence: in this regard in 1966, together with the Soviet astronomer Iosif Školovskij, he published the first book dedicated to this topic: Intelligent Life in the Universe. Still in the SETI environment, in 1974 a symbolic attempt was made to send a message to other worlds. To celebrate a substantial expansion of Arecibo’s 305 m radio telescope, a coded message of 1679 bits was transmitted to the globular cluster M13, about 25,000 light-years away from us. The sequence of 0s and 1s that made up the message was a 23 × 73 matrix that contained some data on our position in the solar system, the stick figure of a human being, chemical formulas and the outline of the radio telescope itself. The 23 × 73 matrix was chosen because both 23 and 73 are prime numbers. It was assumed that this fact would help a hypothetical alien listener recognize the matrix structure. Since the message has been sent at the speed of light, no eventual response can reach us before 50,000 years; for this reason the whole experiment was dismissed as a sort of commercial. Unfortunately, the glorious Arecibo radio telescope, due to severe damage resulting from the Puerto Rico earthquake of January 1st, 2020, completely collapsed on December 1st, 2020. Would you like to transmit a message like this?

With Louis Friedman and Bruce Murray, Carl Sagan founded the Planetary Society in 1980, an organization that now brings together more than 100,000 members passionate about space adventures and exploration of the Solar System.

He was the first to understand the origin of the very high temperatures recorded on the surface of Venus (due to the greenhouse effect).

He helped solve the mystery of the profound changes that astronomers observed every year on the surface of Mars. Sagan had speculated that they were due to dust storms, hypotheses later confirmed.
In this lively context of space exploration, two of the initiatives for which Sagan is remembered are inserted: the message on the Pioneer 10 and 11 probes aimed at a possible extraterrestrial intelligence and Pale Blue Dot. Let’s see them in detail.

In 1972 Pioneer 10 was launched by an Atlas/Centaur rocket. The launch saw the use of a three-stage launch vehicle for the first time.
The third stage was needed to launch Pioneer 10 at the speed of 51810 km/h required for the flight to Jupiter. This speed made it the fastest man-made object to leave Earth, enough to reach the Moon in 11 hours and cross the orbit of Mars, some 80 million km away, just 12 weeks later.

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Credits: Ron Miller
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