Dr. Carl Sagan was born on November 9, 1934. 78 years later--and 16 years after his untimely death--he remains one of the most famous scientists of all time, and possibly the greatest popularizer of science ever. Of course, he was also one of the three founders of the Planetary Society, so it shouldn't surprise anyone that we'd want to celebrate him. Tickets for our little party, hosted for us by Southern California Public Radio, were gone in record time. And we didn't have any problem getting several terrific people to accept our invitation to talk about their former colleague.
You may not be joining us in person, but we've still saved a great seat for you--the comfy one in front of your computer or tablet. The live webcast will begin at 7:00pm Pacific and end around 8:30pm. You can watch it and learn about our very special guests here. We'll hear from people you know, and several people you may someday know much more about as they build their own careers in the sciences. Countless scientists and engineers have been inspired by Dr. Sagan's works, and many went into their fields largely because of him. One is Wladimir Lyra, an astrophysicist at JPL who will join a panel of young scientists on stage. I asked Wlad to tell me a bit about himself, and how Carl Sagan influenced his life. Here is some of what he sent me:
I work on the theory of planet formation, a very ancient question. "How did the Earth come to be?". Virtually every society in recorded history tried at some point to answer this question. In modern times the tentative answers to this question have been stirred up by the discovery of the roughly 800 exoplanets known to date The vast majority of these lie in planetary systems remarkably different from our own. A major goal of my research is to understand this diversity. We do it by reconstructing in simulation models the conditions that existed in the Solar Nebula. In addition to hydrodynamics, we include physical processes such as magnetic fields and turbulence, thermodynamics and radiation, dust and aerodynamics, Newtonian gravity and general relativity. By doing this, we construct, in our computers, a laboratory to consistently study the processes taking place during planet formation. Toward this goal, we harness the full power of modern computers. A typical simulation runs for two weeks in hundreds of processors. I recently ran a model that calculated for three weeks in 18,000 processors.
Carl Sagan was a major inspiration and influence. Though I have been fascinated by Astronomy since pre-school, I developed other interests as I grew up. However, at age 15, Carl Sagan's "Pale Blue Dot" rekindled that fascination with full intensity. I remember seeing the book in the bookstore, and biting my lips in anticipation to buy it and read it. It was fantastic. Not only the subject but also his prose, that at moments read like poetry. In less than a year I had read most of his books. The Demon Haunted World, Billions and Billions, Broca's Brain. I watched the Cosmos series in VHS and Contact in the cinemas. I was so hooked. If I ever had an ounce of doubt about my career choice, by the end of this Sagan marathon, it was all but gone, crystallized into a deep conviction that what I wanted for my professional life, beyond anything else, was to understand the Universe we live in. I went on to the undergrad and grad school in Astronomy, learning my physics and doing my research. My Ph.D. thesis quotes Pale Blue Dot. Working at JPL supported by a fellowship that bears the name of Carl Sagan is a profound honor.
Meet Wlad, physicist Kip Thorne, Contact Executive Producer Lynda Obst, Planetary Society co-founder Lou Friedman and more in our webcast. We'll have some wonderful video clips, too. Watch for the archived on-demand video if you can't join us for the live show. It should be here on the site a few days later, where you can watch it no matter where you live on this pale blue dot.