Planetary Radio • Oct 30, 2019

Finding Wonder and Meaning in a Book by Carl Sagan’s Daughter

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20191029 sasha sagan

Sasha Sagan

Author of For Small Creatures Such as We

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Bruce Betts

Chief Scientist / LightSail Program Manager for The Planetary Society

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Mat Kaplan

Senior Communications Adviser and former Host of Planetary Radio for The Planetary Society

Bill Nye says of Sasha Sagan’s new book, “Sagan finds the meaning of life everywhere—with her family, around the world, and especially among the stars of the cosmos. Read her work; you’ll have a deeper appreciation for your every step, every bite, and every breath.” Mat Kaplan talks with Sasha about For Small Creatures Such as We, and later joins Bruce Betts to offer the book in the new What’s Up space trivia contest.

Sasha Sagan and Mat Kaplan at The Planetary Society
Sasha Sagan and Mat Kaplan at The Planetary Society Image: The Planetary Society / Merc Boyan
Sasha Sagan on Planetary Radio
Sasha Sagan on Planetary Radio Sasha Sagan laughs with Mat Kaplan during an interview at The Planetary Society.Image: The Planetary Society / Merc Boyan
Sasha Sagan and Mat Kaplan onstage at book signing event
Sasha Sagan and Mat Kaplan onstage at book signing event Image: The Planetary Society
Sasha Sagan and Mat Kaplan at Planetary Society Headquarters
Sasha Sagan and Mat Kaplan at Planetary Society Headquarters Image: The Planetary Society / Danielle Gunn

This week's question:

What comet did Mariner 10 return data about in 1973?

To submit your answer:

Complete the contest entry form at or write to us at [email protected] no later than Wednesday, November 6th at 8am Pacific Time. Be sure to include your name and mailing address.

Last week's question:

Who was the first person to eat in space?


The winner will be revealed next week.

Question from the October 16 space trivia contest:

What was the first star system besides our own that was discovered to have eight planets?


The Kepler-90 solar system was the first outside our own discovered to have eight planets.


NOTE: This automated transcript is currently being edited by a human. Check back soon for updates.

[00:00:00] Carl Sagan's daughter arrives with her great new book this week on planetary radio. Welcome. I'm at Kaplan of the planetary Society with more of the Human Adventure across our solar system and beyond Sascha segan. Grew up around the planetary Society. And with parents who loved science and shared that love now, it's her turn and she has created something unique.

We'll meet her in moments and you'll get your chance to win for small creatures such as we that's the book when Bruce vets drops by for this week's what's up, we'll begin with a few items from the current edition of the downlink. It's planetary Society editorial director Jason Davis has Roundup of planetary science and exploration news.

Here's a milestone toward the Next Great Space Observatory. The James Webb Space Telescope deployed. Its five-layer [00:01:00] heat shield under its giant mirrors. For the very first time you can see a shot of the successful test at planetary dot org slash downlink, the privately-funded Breakthrough listen project that we've talked about on planetary radio is going to point antennas at the exoplanets discovered by Tess the transiting exoplanet survey satellite.

Because if you don't listen, you won't hear and China's you to to Rover has woken up for its 11th two-week lunar day of exploration Across The Far Side of the Moon. There's much more to catch up on all with links to learn more at planetary dot org slash. You could easily be forgiven. If you envy Sasha seconds childhood, she grew up with the love guidance and encouragement of Carl Sagan and his collaborator partner and wife Ann druyan.

They instilled in her the sense of wonder and curiosity that [00:02:00] they shared with all of humanity. And that and continues to share through the TV series Cosmos and other efforts after working as a writer and TV producer Sasha has authored a book that surveys Humanities celebrations and rituals finding science wonder and deep meaning she visited the society's new headquarters in Pasadena a few days ago and sat down with me in our studio.

Sascha segan. Thank you so much. It's always an honor to bring people here to the planetary society and sit across the table and talk with him. But after all it's because of your lineage this we have this place to talk about across the table. I'm so happy to be here. This feels very very special and everybody else is you've seen is also thrilled to have you here today.

We already did the little tour. I hope you enjoyed I loved it. I loved it. You have this book which I just finished reading for the second time. Thank you. [00:03:00] Wow. Thank you. I'm going to start by reading the blurb from our boss here. Yes. See you which happens to be on the back of the book build and I says, what is the meaning of life Sagan?

That's Asha Singh? Finds Its meaning everywhere with her family around the world and especially Among the Stars of the cosmos read her work. You'll have a deeper appreciation for your every step every bite and every breath. He is a way with words. He certainly does and I. So delighted and thought really a lot of gratitude when I when I got that blurb that was those wonderful, but then you have a way with words.

Thank you. As was also recognized another blurb inside the book from the Great Richard Dawkins. She's Carl Sagan's daughter and it shows. But you are also and ruins daughter. Yeah, and it shows thank you. Thank you so much for saying that. I really I do feel like I've product of both of my parents and I feel extremely lucky to be the [00:04:00] daughter of those two particular people.

Your mom has been a semi regular guest on this program. Yes. Well as you well know. They don't come any more eloquent. I mean, I love the and I've told this story before the time that Neil Tyson told me that when your mother Andrian speaks, he just feels like he wants to sit down on the floor and cross his legs.

And listen. Yes. I really I mean you can imagine getting to such so much access to sure her and the way she tells. Stories, which is really a theme and my book is her particular way with words her particular storytelling and how enchanting it is and what a big part of my growing up. It was to hear not just the stories historical stories, you know, scientific stories.

Obviously, she and my dad together such. Fantastic science communicators, but the stories of our ancestors in our family. I'm of course [00:05:00] always finding a way to bring the specifics of our family our great-grandparents into the wider larger context of the world and history and science. This is the most wonderful agglomeration of.

Personal experiences your own life remembrances stories. You've been told by others like your parents, but also bringing in these cultural practices and rituals and celebrations from. Around the world and from throughout time. It's there really well woven together. Thank you so much. Thank you. It was at you know, the more that I was sort of researching celebrations and rituals because a lot of the book comes from the idea of if you believe that the scientific method is the pathway to understanding and if you believe that belief or you think that belief requires evidence.

How do you celebrate how do you mark time, you know, you still have [00:06:00] weddings you still have funerals kids still kind of age. You still want to do something when it's cold and the nights are long. How do we sort of navigate this and still have the things that? Brought us together and uplifted us and helped us process change throughout time, even though historically the infrastructure for a lot of that has been religion and what I found that was so thrilling to me was that so many of the holidays and traditions and rituals around the world and throughout time.

When you peel back all the specifics the things that were really celebrating our scientific phenomena birth Coming of Age Death. These are biological processes changing of the seasons as you said in the book. Yeah biology and astronomy, which was the first big revelation of the book because it always been there in front of me, but I never.

What about thank you. Well, it's just it's amazing because we sort of know like okay all these holidays and around the Spring Equinox and they [00:07:00] have these themes that go together that our renewal rebirth but to just think that that is spring itself the idea, you know, if we have so many stories and so many beautiful theological mythological Tales.

The Crux of them all is man that was close, but we're going to be okay, you know, like that could have gone really badly but. We made it whether we're talking about Passover or Easter or Persephone and ancient Greece. There's so many nawruz there so many holidays in so many different cultures where that is really the Crux of it around Springtime and I think the same time around the winter solstice the idea that it is dark and it's cold and we need something to brighten things up.

There's just a through line here because I think before for most of History human history, I write in the book. There was a long time where science and and our idea of our God or our gods were not not yet at War on the more deeply we could understand nature the closer. We were to [00:08:00] understanding the powers that be that we whatever they were for each particular culture.

Hopefully we're coming to a time of at least a ceasefire if natural piece. Yes between those two. Well, I think more and more you hear it. You know, they'll be like a Pew research poll comes out every once in awhile that says, you know more and more people identify as spiritual but not religious. I don't believe you can replace something with nothing and I think that even if you're totally secular, well, you still gotta throw a party every once in awhile you clearly you celebrate celebration.

Yeah, you clearly find comfort in ritual I do because you know, my mother always says there's no refuge from change in the cosmos you now and it's like that's the thing about life on this planet is there is constant change cyclical change and permanent change. Entrances and exits people are born people died and we're just constantly trying to catch up to process this to wrap our [00:09:00] minds around what what this means what we do with this and I think rituals are a way of sort of getting a hang of all this change and letting are letting ourselves pause for a moment and have a think about what this means.

I want to ask you about how you structure the book but be right up front. Why this title? Oh, yes. So for small creatures such as we. It comes from a line in the novel contact, which is the only work of fiction that my dad ever published and like everything that my parents did. It was a collaboration and it's actually my mom who came up with with the words.

The rest of the line is. For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love and I think that that's so much of what my parents taught me is this idea of if we're just this little out-of-the-way planet in this great wide vast Grandeur. What do we have the can sort? Help us not being just a [00:10:00] full-blown existential crisis all day long and it's one another and it's that feeling of falling in love.

The love you feel for your kids. The love you feel for your friends. They'll feeling of being part of a community and being part of a species where even though we have these differences that seem important. They're not. And we're really all in it together on this Little out-of-the-way Rock here here.

How did you come to structure at the way you did as I said it is this amalgamation of both the very personal and what is really spans all of humankind. So the chapters left there's a daily ritual and a weekly ritual their chapters like that. There's each of the four seasons and then there's thing, you know chapters that are about birth and coming of age and death.

I just tried to take a little window into some of the things that are just innate to life on Earth and some of the things that are innate to our species [00:11:00] and the way that we Mark time seemed like such a such a clear theme in. So many of the holidays and rituals around the world, it's this way of processing time.

It's so hard to feel it every second. It's going by it's like lying on the ground. I like to say and trying to feel the Earth rotate. It's just impossible but it's happening all the time. I think we've created a lot of beautiful celebrations and rituals to try to feel time passing another thought that I had is I read the book is that.

There must be I mean, we now know if you'll pardon the expression there are billions and billions of planets Across the Universe. Yes, even in our own Galaxy S right among those billions and billions. They're probably over a billion or more. Yeah that don't tilt. Yes. And what are those poor people do without ya?

Well, yes, there are some places here where it seems like we know how many seasons. No, I mean it's so true because it's so much about a book about being an Earthling. It's just amazing right? [00:12:00] It's some collision at some point in our early history as a planet knocked us a little off. We got this 23 ish degree tilt and because of that.

The length of day is change and we have seasons. They're the source of so much beauty facts kind of sometimes get maligned as cold and hard and you know, sometimes we learn these things in the abstract. We think okay the axial tilt. I just have to remember this for a test or whatever when you're growing up, but I think that if we can teach kids that this is the source of so much Beauty and sort of get a thrill out of it.

It might be. I don't know it might encourage a little more scientific thinking. So that's kind of the astronomical side notice as we said and you say in the book The biology is here as well. And so we kind of get to meet your family and your daughter. Yes. My daughter is too now, but I wrote most of the songs.

Book, I mean I started writing it really [00:13:00] when I was pregnant and I wrote most of it in the first year of her life. So she is definitely a big character. And as anyone does when they become a parent you just suddenly become very aware of your place in as a link in a long chain and I really felt that when you see your grandparents little expressions in your child or all of these things that sort of seemed.

For lack of a more secular word magical but there's a scientific explanation and I in the book I write about how my parents describe to me the idea that there's a secret code in your blood that connects you to your ancestors as This Magnificent. Wonder if. Thing that was sort of more astonishing and thrilling than the stuff of fairy tales, but so much in that genre seemed you know, and I tried I hope to pass on some of that to her that that idea that the things that are explained by science can give us [00:14:00] spine-tingling joy, just the way sometimes our are fairy tales.

Do I don't want to give the idea that it's in any way a major part of the book, but you mentioned in passing this. Seeming correlation between babies and our early edges of you know, yes, so I'm my parents had written a little bit about something the sort of overlaps with this but you know when you're pregnant I had so many girlfriends who would say, especially when the baby starts moving around would say, oh, it's like an alien inside me.

But of course we don't have any evidence as to what an alien would be like so we've but we've created this very Vivid idea that we see, you know, and so many of the movies and television that we've created for ourselves and sci-fi of creatures almost always a little smaller than us. No hair big eyes doesn't speak.

We don't know what it wants, but I don't want. Something and it doesn't know the social mores. And as soon as it arrives, [00:15:00] everything is totally different. We don't know if it's going to be really great or really bad, but it just seems so clear that the narrative that we created about aliens is maybe some of us some of the ways we need to process how we feel about the arrival of a new baby because it seems like there's.

Such an overlap there and it right we could have imagined aliens Any Which Way, but this is what we came up with. I wonder why he's learning that somebody on couple are going to have a baby. Is such an instant moment of Celebration? Yes for strangers absolutely house is you mentioned being a newlywed.

Yeah and people finding that out. Yes, and they're immediately happy for you. Yes, they share in it. Yes. It's so true. I think it's because there is this deep biological sense, especially mean marriage right traditionally. It's like, okay. Well, then they're on the pathway. Obviously now, it's people get married for all sorts of reasons.

It doesn't mean they're gonna have kids but. I mean people are so [00:16:00] nice to you when you're pregnant and it yes total strangers and it just seemed so clear that it was because of this course the species wants to continue and so it's the sense of oh good. There's going to be more of us and you know, I mean, there's plenty of us, but that joy that.

Yeah, when you just randomly meet a pregnant person or you find out someone, you know is having a baby. I mean, it's biological. It's a survival mechanism for the species if we were really blase about babies. Maybe there wouldn't be 7 billion of us exactly like the Shaker is exactly like the Shakers.

Right? Right, right. And there's I mean on that theme I don't want to not be to PG but there's also a chapter called sex in this book and I think that is also something that. That is a biological event that is cause for celebration to and certainly around the world. There's different ways of thinking about it and different mores but it's something that also is biological and really important to us and something that [00:17:00] all over the world cultures have have treated differently, but there's there's ritual and tradition around that to you have chapters that cover all talked about so far.

I'm going to come back to Seasons in a moment, but you made me think for the second time. Recently some of the audience has heard this before the celebration of the birth of that greatest of Beginnings. At least if you're the parent right made me think of the old series Roots way before your time, but in I'm sure it's at the beginning of the first episode of roots baby is born in a village in Africa father takes him outside.

Hold him up to this gorgeous sky with the Milky Way stretching across and says behold the only thing greater than yourself which seems to fit in. Yeah what you were taught by your parents and what you express here. Yeah. Well, it's just this course the the [00:18:00] rituals and celebrations around the birth of a baby are so.

So varied and so beautiful, but you know when I was born, my father said to me welcome to the planet Earth and and we made that, you know, only two generations long, but we made that a tradition. My daughter was born and I think this idea of teaching. Children from from very early on minutes in that they are part of not just this planet but a grand universe that we are only just beginning to understand and a lot of what I write about to is the idea that it's okay to say, we don't know everything yet and that there are still really big unanswered questions and I think getting a sense of that early on to is really powerful.

I'll be back with Sascha segan after this break. Hi, I'm Jason Davis editorial director for the planetary Society. Did you know there are more than 20 planetary science missions exploring our solar system. That means a lot of news happens in [00:19:00] any given week. Here's how to keep up with it. All the down link is our new Roundup of Planetary Exploration headlines.

It connects you to the details when you want to dive deeper from Mercury to Interstellar space. We'll catch you up on what you might have missed. That's the downlink every Friday at planetary dot-org. That concept of what we don't know and unfortunate quote from a former Secretary of Defense. Yeah, right unknown unknowns.

Right? Right right II wasn't surprised read at all that your parents when asked about, you know, do they believe that aliens exist or is there life after death? They responded by saying we don't know but what was interesting is that you report how. Responded they gave that response with such Joy.

Yes, when I read about this too. When I was little if I could ask a question to which they didn't know the answer and we had to look it up or investigate it that was like I had done something marvelous and I would like [00:20:00] really celebrated for that. Sometimes we would go to the Britannica and we would find out the answer and sometimes there were questions to which.

We don't know the answer or you know, we don't know the answer yet or some things like life after death to which each of us will in time get the answer but the idea that it was okay to say well, we just don't know and that's great. You know, that's fine. That's better than coming up with an answer because.

We're so uncomfortable as my parents would say unable to tolerate ambiguity. You know, I think they really instilled in me this idea that anyone who ever came up to my dad and said look, do you believe in aliens and he would say well I just don't know so we don't have any evidence and they would say yeah, but like, what do you really think and like what is your gut?

Saying he would say, you know something to the effect of well, like I try to use my my brain and not my gut to determine these sort of things and it's just a very I don't know. I think it's so hard. Sometimes we really struggle and everyday life [00:21:00] not even with like big philosophical questions, but just the feeling of not knowing.

So hard, but I think it's something really useful and something that if we can try to get more comfortable with would be better off and it drives so much of science. Yeah, exactly exactly and to find an answer that's real rather than a placeholder so that we're so there were more comfortable. Yeah, yeah get into the that the seasonal stuff because you've got chapters about all the seasons and the one about summer.

I mean, this is a space show. Yeah, so some people are saying okay. Let's talk about space. Yes. All right. This is sort of moving in that direction summer. Seemed especially relevant for this conversation. We owe Our Lives. Yes to the sun. Yeah clearly. Yes more broadly though. You review how light in general has always been regarded as as sacred.

Yes. It's so true. I mean so many. Celebrations and rituals and holidays have to do with a flame with a [00:22:00] candle or some this little I like to think of it as this little miniature of our son and you know, there's so many there's so much sun worship throughout history. So many Sun Gods, especially in places close to the equator where the sun is part, you know, this double edged sword part of everyday life and it just makes.

It makes perfect sense, right if we're going to worship anything certainly the star that that that we orbit that gives us so much and to whom as you said, we owe Our Lives it seems so natural but what I found so fascinating was the idea that that you know an eternal flame at the graveside of someone we admire or birthday candle or in Judaism.

There's something called a yard site candle which you light on the anniversary of someone's death and they're just course. So many holidays revolve around making light in the winter time and it just seemed so, you know, when you take a step back if you were to look at us from the vantage point of another another species [00:23:00] somewhere.

You might think of course this is this is how they celebrate. This is what they worship. Its they have this this yellow star that's really meaningful to them. And in fact, this all comes up this discussion of the Sun in your. Chapter about anniversaries and birthdays this idea that every time the Earth comes back around to roughly the same spot is a time to break out a birthday cake, right?

It's so funny because it's again. It's so much a part of our lives that when it's the anniversary of something and event birth marriage. Anything of Coronation that's when you celebrate it, but it could be any time but it's so astronomical that we do it when we're in the same position around the Sun that we were when the thing happened, but of course the whole solar system is moving in the whole galaxy is moving.

So we're not really in the exact same. Place but it's that's kind of like a perfect metaphor for what it feels like on your birthday. Right? It's kind of the same. You have cake you're with your [00:24:00] friends or whatever but everything's different because Here Is Gone by yeah you ever hear. This is sort of a semi non-sectarian.

I'm open to all non sequiturs and Isaac Asimov The Great science for yeah, once in back in the 1940s wrote this wonderful science fiction short story called Nightfall. Hmm, and it was set on a plan. Where science was budding and they had they had great observatories, but. They had never seen the night sky because of a the observatory's yeah for studying their stars because they had I think three or four stars and because of this there was always a star that was up in the sky over wherever you were on the planet.

They didn't know what stars were they'd never seen the night except that once every Millennium or so. They all dip below the Horizon and civilization goes utterly mad. Wow. Oh my God. I have chills [00:25:00] that it's a great premise, but it fits right in. Yeah, you're talking about the our attitude about.

Light the light of the Sun the originator of yes, I did almost all of it. And also this idea that right before we had control of fire and at night, you know the stars and if you're lucky a full moon was the only. Light but also how how much scarier that was and what a visceral relief Sunrise must be and to be able to see what's in the forest see what animals are around that must have been so not just oh it's nice that it's daytime.

But just that relief of safety. Yeah. Yeah, and we're going to come to the season that which we're talking right now days away from Halloween before we leave this chapter you also. Spend a little bit of time exploring time travel of A Sort. Yes, not to science fiction variety, but it [00:26:00] still fascinates you in the way that that it manifests itself in.

Our books is yeah entertainment. I've really since childhood have been totally fascinated with time travel and back to the future. But also when you know on trips to Disneyworld, my favorite thing was the giant golf ball that Walter Cronkite used to narrate about the history of communication and you.

See like Rome burning and you know animatronic people bringing each other Scrolls and things like that. And I was like, this is great. I'll just ride this all day and my friends are like, oh no, please not again, but in the summer chapter, I talked a little bit about a very low-tech way of time traveling.

Just in your mind, but I love to go to like the beach or in a forest or somewhere like that. And when you create a little window with your hands where there's nothing modern and there's nothing that couldn't have been there a few centuries ago. I don't know there's something about that that I find really moving and just to sort of.

[00:27:00] Artificially get an idea of what it might have been like to live in another Epoch. I don't know sometimes I find it really moving. You also as a form of time travel talk about something which I think is come up on this show before but you gave it this significance in terms of human meaning and that is that there's a little bit of time travel in every breath we take yes.

Yes because air particles are so small and they. Are there so plentiful that every time you inhale there's a great quote from Sam Kean book called Caesars Last Breath about how there's more traffic of air particles in our lungs than in. Like all of the transportation I'm paraphrasing but like all the highways and and roadways and train travel tracks in the history of the world.

And so it's you know, if you loved someone who's no longer here, I you take a deep breath. There's a very good chance that some of the air [00:28:00] that they once breathed is in your lungs and to me that's so intimate and beautiful. You had doesn't it just. Take that deep breath and just feel that connection and it's real there's one other little bit of time travel which was part of your tour today because it was that little bit of footage of your father on the Johnny Carson show on the old Tonight Show.

It's so I feel so lucky that even though I lost my dad when I was 14 because of the nature of his work. I have so much of him and also because of the nature of the time that we live in and that he lived in even 30 years ago. Not many people had you know, as many photographs and footage. I have, you know, 13 hours of Cosmos and all these Johnny Carson appearances and I feel so lucky that I can go back to that and.

See him and how wonderful it is that through modern technology. Now all of us. Everyone has these pictures and videos of [00:29:00] each other on their phones and you know, when somebody's gone you can you can see them again here their laugh again, all these things that until very recently would have been lost with with their death.

I forgot to show you my favorite. Memento in this place when we took you around the planetary society and it's hanging on the wall out there. I will definitely show it to you on the way out. It's from the original Cosmos series because they didn't have CGI. Yeah when they wanted when your father and mother and the other she made the show wanted to fly us through the Valles marineris that Grand Canyon of Mars.

Yeah, they had to build it. Yeah, and so we have it hanging on the wall outside hear this. Gorgeous model that takes us to the red planet. Oh, that's awesome. Oh, that's so great. I would love to see that. We have a prop Rosetta Stone at my mother's house from the cosmos and it's like, you know, the back is styrofoam, but it's the same thing [00:30:00] that they used the used in the original series, and it's.

It's not that sort of thing where it's like well, we'll just physically make a prop because you know in the 1980's the technology wasn't wasn't quite there yet. Yeah, it's kind of ashamed to think that now with Neil Tyson's revisiting of Cosmos. They probably don't come out with as many of those not as many props that I don't think you have to you have to have a hard drive.

I guess just Switching gears a little bit. Nothing disappointing that happens to me two or three times a year. Probably the some very nice person. Sometimes someone I know. Well sometimes a stranger will either introduce me or ask if I've been in astrology long. Now, I'm not even I'm a very poor astronomer.

Yeah, and I'm certainly not an astrologer, but I'd rather be a poor astronomer than the best of astrology. Yes and you believe with your parents in spite of this that we are connected to the cosmos. This is the thing you again talking about people who like [00:31:00] sort of see themselves describe themselves as spiritual but not religious.

I think sometimes that. Category, you know, maybe they're very skeptical of religious doctrine that they were brought up with but they're really interested. So I mean again, it's a generalization but there is a theme where you sometimes see people who describe themselves that way to be who are really interested in astrology or crystals or other things that sort of fall into that category and of course because I believe that.

Evidence has to has to survive. I'll put it this way. I withhold belief without evidence. So I'm not a big fan of astrology and crystals but extraordinary claims. Yes extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and I have yet to see any that support those things. But what I think is really.

Important is I think that that urge an interest in those things comes from this desire to feel connected to the planet to the universe and I think a lot of [00:32:00] people really want to feel that that sense of their place in in our world in our universe in. Great vastness and sometimes maybe they get a little sidetracked as to what the best way to do that is or what the way that that is most reflective of our understanding of of science at this time, but I think that it's some of that desire could be repurposed into a deeper understanding of.

Astronomy couldn't agree more and we still find such Connections In The Sky. We always have yes. Yeah. I know you do too. Yes in your chapter about Autumn. Yes you go through all these other cultural visions of these patterns random patterns. Yes ours that we see in the sky my favorite among. Yes, the mono people will live.

Here in California who when they looked up at the Pleiades? Yes, beautiful little cluster of stars. They see a group of women who prefer onions to husband. [00:33:00] That was a great one. I mean right constellations right there such a reflection. I mean the lines we draw between the Stars their reflection of what our hopes and fears are and what we are thinking about and what our culture emphasizes we're always looking.

I mean our entire history is a species has been about looking for meaning up in the sky and I think we're just in the last last few hundred years were really getting a sense of what's up there and and and how we fit in. You have wonderful quotes at the top of each chapter one that really stuck with me.

I don't even know if this is at the top of a chapter actually, but someone that the my wife and I think very highly of the the Zen master thich nhat hanh. Yes, I'll read the quote. Yes. I know you're know which one it is. In this plate of food. I see clearly the presence of the entire universe supporting my existence.

It's signals Sublime gratitude, [00:34:00] but it was only on my second reading of that. That I was struck by this wisdom similarity to something that your father said and it's kind of a cone in itself. When he said what he said about apple pie. Yes. Yeah, you know a couple pie from scratch first, you have to create the universe that quote is in a chapter of that's really about gratitude and about our relationship to food and the theme of fasting and so many cultures and the.

The majority of human history when there were lean times and fat times and we had a different relationship with food than we do now, but I think one of the things I admire most even though I'm secular one of the things I admire most about religious culture is a sense of gratitude and a sense of working together to move move the.

The world a little closer to how you wish it could be and I think those things go hand-in-hand and my hope is [00:35:00] that if we can we can take that moment before you have a bite and think not only am I lucky that I have food and to the if it's an animal, you know, the animal who were eating in the farmers and the migrant workers and everybody who made it possible to get this.

You know meal on our plate but also to the millions of years of evolution that it took for us to be able to consume food for the Bounty that's available on Earth. I think it would be really great. If we could find sort of a secular way to have some of that gratitude and Ice amazing how many versions and this is a you know, as a Buddhist prayer, I guess of gratitude, but it could be secular easily.

Easily? Yeah, and I'll note in passing. There's a chapter about that. I posted feast and famine but has pieces feast and fast. Yes. Exactly. Yeah. We're at the planetary Society. Yes. I am. So proud to work for an organization that [00:36:00] your father helped to create. It was a big part of creating. Yeah its place and I just wonder I mean you had to know this question was coming your thoughts and being in this place, which is in large part a part of his legacy.

Oh, it's so moving and I can remember being at the. The other location when I was a kid and I can picture, you know his stationary with the planetary Society logo at the top and we spent most of the summer in Pasadena when he was working here and at JPL and I just have such fond memories of him here.

And I know that I mean the way that that that Johnny Carson footage we were talking about where he's introducing this idea of the light Sail on The Tonight Show and. Decades later to see it come to fruition is so meaningful and moving really genuinely moving for me. So it's a pleasure to be here.

Thank you for that in the end is their [00:37:00] advice you want to pass along or if you're not into giving advice lessons you may have learned from just writing this book and living the life that led up to it. Well, I would say this with the thing that really I hope to take away from this is whatever you believe whether you're you know, secular or religious or somewhere in between that the idea that we are here right now and it is really meaningful and beautiful and worthy of Celebration and we are in it together.

There are ways to. Reflect your true philosophy in the in the way you mark time in the way you celebrate in the way you have holidays with your family and the way you welcome a newborn. There's no need to go through the motions. You can do what actually reflects your deepest philosophy and I think that in a way the most traditional thing is.

The idea that human beings are trying to understand where we are and what it means [00:38:00] to be alive on this planet and we've been doing that long before we were doing anything else. It's an exciting Quest. Yes it certainly is it certainly is you close the book. With a kind of a celebration but a connection to your past you spend all over the book.

You've got mention of your grandparents. Even your great-grandparents. We even I told you decide discovered that we both had Grandpa Harry's yes, but you had this wonderful experience. That your mother invited you to participate. Yes in the next season of Cosmos, which my mother writes and produces and directs.

There is a scene where my dad is a little boy and he's working on a flyer that he imagined would be a flyer that. Would be put up somewhere in the distant future for people who are interested in interstellar travel and that flyer really existed. It's really in the Library of [00:39:00] Congress now and there was a little background role with no lines.

My mother called me and said you want to play your grandmother Rachel who I talked about in the book. I've always felt very connected to I got her name Rachel as my middle name and that that sort of connection of. These characteristics that everyone said I had that were hers felt like this magical for lack of a better word way that you know DNA was exhibiting itself and something worth celebrating and then this idea that again time travel.

You know, I came out to the Sound Studio and I'm in costume and there's this set that looks like the apartment that my father lived in when he was a little boy in Brooklyn and it was this again artificial but really moving powerful feeling of time travel. So I got to I got a little cameo in there and the next season and a really meaningful experience for me.

Can't wait to see it. Your [00:40:00] mom told me how proud she is of you for creating this book. I can I absolutely agree with her. It is a wonderful work. I recommend it very highly and thank you for coming in to talk to us about it. My pleasure. Thank you so much for having me. The book is for small creatures such as we.

Rituals for finding meaning in our unlikely world and its author is Sascha. Segan. What's up with Bruce Betts arrives right after a break time for the barely pre Halloween edition of what's up, and we are joined by the chief scientist of the planetary Society Bruce bats. Welcome. Yay. Now, I think it should be boo.

It's Halloween time. Hey speaking of spooky. You're just back from Washington. DC. Always always a spooky place to go. Yes, I was attending the [00:41:00] international astronautical Congress the IAC conference and giving a talk about preliminary results of light sail to. Still up above our heads as we speak right still out there still flying still talking to a still doing some sailing.

We're tweaking it here and there and it's going I sure hear from lots of listeners who are thrilled to know that we did this and it's still going still going on Mission the mission continues. I wanted to share that with you as well. What else is up there? Well on spooky Halloween if you picked this up in time, we've got a lovely sight with the moon in between Jupiter and Saturn a crescent moon between Jupiter and Saturn that will be low in the southwest in the early evening Jupiter and Saturn will be hanging out there.

Even after that on the second. The moon will be close to Saturn. We can yellowish Saturn not not the Moon. I mean probably not. Maybe if it's [00:42:00] smoggy where you are and then in the pre-dawn East very low down is reddish Mars starting its Ascent into the pre-dawn sky and then and then Mercury Transit Matt the last one for until the 2030s on November 11th a rare Transit of Mercury.

Crossing the Sun going between the Earth and the Sun to observe this small disc crossing the sun. You're going to need a telescope with proper safety filters. Don't fry your eyes out, please or tune into telescope webcasts that you can find online. The transit will be visible from South America and Africa and most of North America and Europe who will rise already with Mercury on its face when we see it here on the west coast of North America.

I am definitely going to bring the telescope out. That'll be great proper. Safety filters everyone. I've got it. It doesn't mean [00:43:00] sunglasses, right? Yeah. Yeah. I've got that filter. That's good for nothing. But looking at the sun. Yeah. Alright. Well we move onto this week in space history.

Respectfully remember 1957 Sputnik 2 launched Laika the dog into space and the first space example of animal cruelty, but hey wasn't like this fall like a rocked 1973 Mariner 10 launched. It would fly past Venus and then give us our first views of mercury in 2013 the Mars Orbiter Mission launched from India on its way to Mars.

Wow, that's that's a long time ago, and it's still orbiting and still delivering. Yeah, all right, we move on to room and I'm heading down a lion's drag strip. Thanks. Well, [00:44:00] I did once a long time ago. It's been gone for many many years. You'll travel back in time and go. So here's here's your random space fact Voyager 1 and Voyager 2.

You've probably heard of them. Until just before relatively close to launch in 1977. They were known either as the Mercury Mariner Jupiter Saturn missions, or you could have even called the Mariner 11 and 12, but then. Voyager program was split off and they became Voyager 1 and 2 and went on to fame and fortune and fame.

They went on the fan. Well, they delivered a fortune in data and images and the data continues. So yeah, you're not alone. Yeah, I'd read about that that they almost were part of the Mariner series. All right, we move on to the trivia contest. I asked you. What was the first star system besides our own [00:45:00] found to have eight planets how to do math.

We got a winner. I think our first one I'm not absolutely sure but I think our first one from South Africa Sean Young believes that it would have to judge the Kepler 90 system was the first to be discovered that had eight planets. Which a lot of people believe is how many our own solar system has more about that in a moment.

He's correct. He is correct. Congratulations Sean. We have a Nayak pin for you. That's the NASA Innovative advanced concepts program out of NASA that we did a show on two three weeks ago two weeks ago to be precise and a kick asteroid rubber asteroid from the planetary Society. Along with the 200-point.

I telescope dotnet astronomy account way to win. So Kepler 90 the parent star is a g-type main sequence star not that different than [00:46:00] the Sun and located about two thousand eight hundred and 40 light-years from Earth eight planets. Go ahead Matt back to you Andres. Ospina a long time listener in Colombia somebody else in the southern hemisphere.

He mentions as did several other listeners that it could have more than eight planets and needs to be observed for a longer to to see if that's possibly the case all of these eight apparently very close to that star Kepler 90. We heard this by the way from Devon O'Rourke in Colorado. He said if you lived on Kepler 90i.

The positive side would be cheaper quicker space exploration because they're all basically closer to their star then Earth is the bad side the negative side, you'd be dead. It's too hot. Yeah. Yeah. It's a hot. Star and they're all within Earth's [00:47:00] orbit the sort of share similarity that you have the rocky planets on the inside or the small.

Let me be more specific the smaller planets on the interior in the in the larger gas giants on the exterior, but they're also way too close to their star Smokin. So you said 2840 light years away Brian Mangold wonders if there for maybe lightsail three or four will pay them a visit. We'll get back to you on that.

Yeah, finally from our Poet Laureate here's day Fairchild Google took a neural network dumped in Kepler stuff started up the process and found planets sure enough. So around a g-type star they found the tying sphere. Kepler 90s a tour great, but none have biospheres. Yeah, and it's true. Apparently there was a Google algorithm sort of a citizen science thing that was used to find at [00:48:00] least one and maybe more of these planets circling Kepler 90.

You knew about that. Yes. I'm not surprised. Okay, we're ready to go on back to Mariner 10. Well known for mercury also flew by Venus first to do a gravity assist like that to go one body to another. But here's something you may or may not know until after the trivia question what comet did Mariner 10 return return data about in 1973?

What comet did Mariner 10 return data about go to planetary dot org slash radio contest. Hmm. You have until Wednesday November 6 at 8 a.m. Time to get us this answer and you probably won't be surprised to hear that. Whoever makes it through the process this time through and has the right answer is going to get a copy of Sasha Sagan's book for small creatures such as we.

This sure terrific book that we've been talking about earlier on this [00:49:00] program. I highly recommend it as you've heard me say along with the 200-point. I telescope dotnet account from that great worldwide network of remotely operated telescopes. I bet they'll be looking at the Mercury Transit with some of those and you might be able to join in.

Okay now we're done. All right, everybody go out there. Look up the night sky and think about what costume you'd like Matt to wear for Halloween. Thank you and good night. Well my three and a half year old grandson who had interesting choices for everyone in his life what they're supposed to be for Halloween.

I'm trying to figure out what I'm going to need to have a gopher costume.

You would make such a fine go for I think he made an excellent choice. Thank you. I don't know why it just you. Just would I'll pass that along. Thank you very much. I'm thinking they're the chief scientist of the planetary Society. It's so Bruce Betts who joins us every week here for what's. I [00:50:00] love bringing back the spooky Halloween version of our theme song planetary radio is produced by the planetary Society in Pasadena, California and is made possible by its members most of whom Revere the name Seguin join them by visiting planetary dot org slash.

Mark Hilverda is our associate producer. Josh Doyle composed our theme and this version came from Paul Berg l a phantom creep theater, Coney Island, New York. Thanks again Paul. I'm Mat Kaplan. Ad astra.