The "Real" Carl Sagan

Did you watch "Cosmos" last night? The show was trending on Twitter during its broadcast, which is a good sign that television watchers crave shows that make them smarter. As we've reported here on Big Think, the return of "Cosmos" is sorely needed at a time when evolution vs. creationism is an actual debate.

While Neil deGrasse Tyson is doing an excellent job taking the torch from his mentor, we want to look back on, who was the real Carl Sagan? National Geographic answers that question in this must-read profile of the pioneering scientist.

It turns out that not only was Sagan a nurturing mentor who deeply cared about his students, he was also a big picture thinker who wasn't afraid to go against the grain.

From National Geographic:

"He worked very hard, 18-hour days. He had a tremendous appetite for his work," says [William] Poundstone, [author of Carl Sagan: A Life in the Cosmos]. "He was made for television, sure, and he looked very relaxed and normal in jeans when other scientists didn't. But there was a lot more to him."

As a scientist, Sagan made a real mark on planetary science in the early 1970s as a young Harvard professor, "at a time when planetary science was a bit of a backwater," Poundstone says.

Sagan first predicted that the greenhouse effect made the atmosphere of Venus hot enough to melt lead, at a time when some scientists still speculated that its clouds might hide oceans, says Morrison.

Sagan also identified dark-shaded regions on Mars as highlands and identified lighter areas as desert plains marked by dust storms. Those storms later bedeviled NASA's Mars Viking landers in the 1970s.

"He was a really great big-picture scientist, great with back-of-the envelope calculations, who could see the fundamental premises of science and observations," says Morrison.

To gain more insight into this remarkable scientist, head over to National Geographic.

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less
Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

Do human beings have a magnetic sense? Biologists know other animals do. They think it helps creatures including bees, turtles and birds navigate through the world.

Keep reading Show less

Harvard: Men who can do 40 pushups have a 'significantly' lower risk of heart disease

Turns out pushups are more telling than treadmill tests when it comes to cardiovascular health.

Airman 1st Class Justin Baker completes another push-up during the First Sergeants' push-up a-thon June 28, 2011, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. Participants were allowed 10 minutes to do as many push-ups as they could during the fundraiser. Airman Baker, a contract specialist assigned to the 354th Contracting Squadron, completed 278 push-ups. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Janine Thibault)
Surprising Science
  • Men who can perform 40 pushups in one minute are 96 percent less likely to have cardiovascular disease than those who do less than 10.
  • The Harvard study focused on over 1,100 firefighters with a median age of 39.
  • The exact results might not be applicable to men of other age groups or to women, researchers warn.
Keep reading Show less

U.S. reacts to New Zealand's gun ban

On Thursday, New Zealand moved to ban an array of semi-automatic guns and firearms components following a mass shooting that killed 50 people.

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Gun control supporters are pointing to the ban as an example of swift, decisive action that the U.S. desperately needs.
  • Others note the inherent differences between the two nations, arguing that it is a good thing that it is relatively hard to pass such legislation in such a short timeframe.
  • The ban will surely shape future conversations about gun control in the U.S.
Keep reading Show less