The cosmos is also within us, we're made of star-stuff. We are a way for the cosmos, to know itself.
November 3, 2012 5:07 PM   Subscribe

Cosmos: A Personal Voyage is a thirteen-part television series of one hour shows written by Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan, and Steven Soter, that was aired at the tail end of 1980 and was - at the time - the most widely watched series in the history of American public television. It is best introduced by an audio excerpt of one of his books, The Pale Blue Dot. Inside is a complete annotated collection of the series.

1 "The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean" September 28, 1980
After an introduction by Ann Druyan, including the benefits of the end of the Cold War, Carl Sagan opens the program with a description of the cosmos and a "Spaceship of the Imagination" (shaped like a dandelion seed). The ship journeys through the universe's hundred billion galaxies, the Local Group, the Andromeda Galaxy, the Milky Way, the Orion Nebula, our Solar System, and finally the planet Earth. Eratosthenes' successful calculation of the circumference of Earth leads to a description of the ancient Library of Alexandria. Finally, the "Ages of Science" are described, before pulling back to the full span of the Cosmic Calendar.

2 "One Voice in the Cosmic Fugue" October 5, 1980
Sagan discusses the story of the Heike crab and artificial selection of crabs resembling samurai warriors, as an opening into a larger discussion of evolution through natural selection (and the pitfalls of intelligent design). Among the topics are the development of life on the Cosmic Calendar and the Cambrian explosion; the function of DNA in growth; genetic replication, repairs, and mutation; the common biochemistry of terrestrial organisms; the creation of the molecules of life in the Miller-Urey experiment; and speculation on alien life (such as life in Jupiter's clouds). In the Cosmos Update ten years later, Sagan remarks on RNA also controlling chemical reactions and reproducing itself and the different roles of comets (potentially carrying organic molecules or causing the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event).

3 "The Harmony of the Worlds" October 12, 1980
Beginning with the separation of the fuzzy thinking and pious fraud of astrology from the careful observations of astronomy, Sagan follows the development of astronomical observation. Beginning with constellations and ceremonial calendars (such as those of the Anasazi), the story moves to the debate between Earth and Sun-centered models: Ptolemy and the geocentric worldview, Copernicus' theory, the data-gathering of Tycho Brahe, and the achievements of Johannes Kepler (Kepler's laws of planetary motion and the first science-fiction novel).

4 "Heaven and Hell" October 19, 1980
Sagan discusses comets and asteroids as planetary impactors, giving recent examples of the Tunguska event and a lunar impact described by Canterbury monks in 1178. It moves to a description of the environment of Venus, from the previous fantastic theories of people such as Immanuel Velikovsky to the information gained by the Venera landers and its implications for Earth's greenhouse effect. The Cosmos Update highlights the connection to global warming.

5 "Blues for a Red Planet" October 26, 1980
The episode, devoted to the planet Mars, begins with scientific and fictional speculation about the Red Planet during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, Edgar Rice Burroughs' science fiction books, and Percival Lowell's false vision of canals on Mars). It then moves to Robert Goddard's early experiments in rocket-building, inspired by reading science fiction, and the work by Mars probes, including the Viking, searching for life on Mars. The episode ends with the possibility of the terraforming and colonization of Mars and a Cosmos Update on the relevance of Mars' environment to Earth's and the possibility of a manned mission to Mars.

6 "Travellers' Tales" November 2, 1980
The journeys of the Voyager probes is put in the context of the Netherlands in the seventeenth century, with a centuries-long tradition of sailing ship explorers, and its contemporary thinks (such as Constantijn Huygens and his son Christian). Their discoveries are compared to the Voyager probes' discoveries among the Jovian and Saturn systems. In Cosmos Update, image processing reconstructs Voyager’s worlds and Voyager’s last portrait of the Solar System as it leaves is shown.

7 "The Backbone of Night" November 9, 1980
Carl Sagan teaches students in a classroom in his childhood home in Brooklyn, New York, which leads into a history of the different mythologies about stars and the gradual revelation of their true nature. In ancient Greece, some philosophers (Aristarchus of Samos, Thales of Miletus, Anaximander, Theodorus of Samos, Empedocles, Democritus) freely pursue scientific knowledge, while others (Plato, Aristotle, and the Pythagoreans) advocate slavery and epistemic secrecy.

8 "Journeys in Space and Time" November 16, 1980
Ideas about time and space are explored in the changes that constellations undergo over time, the redshift and blueshift measured in interstellar objects, time dilation in Albert Einstein's theory of relativity, the designs of both Leonardo da Vinci and spacecraft that could travel near light speed, time travel and its hypothetical effects on human history, the origins of the Solar System, the history of life, and the immensity of space. In Cosmos Update, the idea of faster-than-light travel by wormholes (researched by Kip Thorne and shown in Sagan’s novel Contact) is discussed.

9 "The Lives of the Stars" November 23, 1980
The simple act of making an apple pie is extrapolated into the atoms and subatomic particles (electrons, protons, and neutrons) necessary. Many of the ingredients necessary are formed of chemical elements formed in the life and deaths of stars (such as our own Sun), resulting in massive red giants and supernovae or collapsing into white dwarfs, neutron stars, pulsars, and even black holes. These produce all sorts of phenomena, such as radioactivity, cosmic rays, and even the curving of spacetime by gravity. Cosmos Update mentions the supernova SN 1987A and neutrino astronomy.

10 "The Edge of Forever" November 30, 1980
Beginning with the origins of the universe in the Big Bang, Sagan describes the formation of different types of galaxies and anomalies such as galactic collisions and quasars. The episodes moves further into ideas about the structure of the Universe, such as different dimensions (in the imaginary Flatland and four-dimensional hypercubes), an infinite vs. a finite universe, and the idea of an oscillating Universe (similar to that in Hindu cosmology). The search into other ideas such as dark matter and the multiverse is shown, using tools such as the Very Large Array in New Mexico. Cosmos Update shows new information about the odd, irregular surfaces of galaxies and the Milky Way perhaps being a barred spiral galaxy.

11 "The Persistence of Memory" December 7, 1980
The idea of intelligence is explored in the concepts of computers (using bits as their basic units of information), whales (in their songs and their disruptions by human activities), DNA, the human brain (the evolution of the brain stem, frontal lobes, neurons, cerebral hemispheres, and corpus callosum under the Triune Brain Model), and man-made structures for collective intelligence (cities, libraries, books, computers, and satellites). The episode ends with speculation on alien intelligence and the information conveyed on the Voyager Golden Record.

12 "Encyclopaedia Galactica" December 14, 1980
Questions are raised about the search for intelligent life beyond the Earth, with UFOs and other close encounters refuted in favor of communications through SETI and radio telescope such as the Arecibo Observatory. The probability of technically advanced civilizations existing elsewhere in the Milky Way is interpreted using the Drake equation and a future hypothetical Encyclopedia Galactica is discussed as a repository of information about other worlds in the galaxy. The Cosmos Update notes that there have been fewer sightings of UFOs and more stories of abductions, while mentioning the META scanning the skies for signals.

13 "Who Speaks for Earth?" December 21, 1980
Sagan reflects on the future of humanity and the question of "who speaks for Earth?" when meeting extraterrestrials. He discusses the very different meetings of the Tlingit people and explorer Jean-François de La Pérouse with the destruction of the Aztecs by Spanish conquistadors, the looming threat of nuclear warfare, and the threats shown by destruction of the Library of Alexandria and the murder of Hypatia. The episode ends with a overview of the beginning of the universe, the evolution of life, and the accomplishments of humanity and makes a plea to for mankind to cherish life and continue its journey in the cosmos. The Cosmos Update notes the preliminary reconnaissance of planets with spacecraft, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of apartheid in South Africa, and measures towards the reduction of nuclear weapons.
For those in the US, it is also available on Hulu (Previously)
14 "Ted Turner Interviews Dr. Sagan"
Some versions of the series, including the first North American home video release (though not the DVD release), included a specially-made fourteenth episode, which consisted of an hour-long interview between Sagan and Ted Turner, in which the two discussed the series and new discoveries made in the years since its first broadcast.

15 "The Meat Planet" Jun 28, 2011
In this never before seen episode of Cosmos, Carl Sagan takes us on a journey to the often misunderstood Meat Planet, examining it's origins, geological activity and atmosphere among many other unsettling details. More information on The Meat Planet. (Previously)

Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space (1994) is a non-fiction book by Carl Sagan. It is the sequel to Cosmos: A Personal Voyage and was inspired by the "Pale Blue Dot" photograph, for which Sagan provides a sobering description. In this book, Sagan mixes philosophy about the human place in the universe with a description of the current knowledge about the Solar System. He also details a human vision for the future. The partial audio recorded by Sagan can accessed here (40:03)

For those who have watched all of the episodes and still can't get enough of Cosmos, there is a sequel planned to be hosted by Niel DeGrasse Tyson and aired sometime in 2013 (Previously)
posted by Blasdelb (46 comments total) 184 users marked this as a favorite
Incidentally, damn do I miss the fuck out of Carl Sagan.
posted by Blasdelb at 5:33 PM on November 3, 2012 [27 favorites]

Nicely done, thanks for the effort.
posted by HuronBob at 5:36 PM on November 3, 2012

Meat Planet is AWESOME
posted by Renoroc at 5:46 PM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is terrific!

I don't suppose anyone could fill me in on the "owned or licensed by Koch Entertainment" description on some of the episodes, though? Please dear god say it's not that Koch.
posted by JHarris at 5:54 PM on November 3, 2012

"I don't suppose anyone could fill me in on the "owned or licensed by Koch Entertainment" description on some of the episodes, though? Please dear god say it's not that Koch."

Nope, Koch Entertainment is Franz Koch and totally different. The Koch Brothers do however incidentally provide large amounts of support for science, science education and public broadcasting
posted by Blasdelb at 5:59 PM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Did Carl Sagan actually create the Meat Planet parody? It's hard to tell.

Blasdelb: "Incidentally, damn do I miss the fuck out of Carl Sagan."

So do a lot of other people, me included. I recently admitted to myself how important Cosmos is and finally bought a copy.
posted by jiawen at 6:04 PM on November 3, 2012

Dying here. Just dying. "Methane seeps out of the insane, bovine globe."
posted by laconic skeuomorph at 6:06 PM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Carl has this odd speaking style, like he's doing an exact imitation of Agent Smith. But wait, the Matrix came after this ... so...OOOooooooh.
posted by Rich Smorgasbord at 6:11 PM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nth-ing "I miss Carl".

I love Neil deGrasse Tyson, Carl's closest living analog, but Carl had such a manner of prose that hearing or reading his words is almost something of a religious experience.
posted by triceryclops at 6:23 PM on November 3, 2012 [5 favorites]

One of Carl's last interviews with Charlie Rose in 1996.
posted by mazola at 6:26 PM on November 3, 2012

Holly Golightly went to Tiffany's when she had the mean reds; I watch Cosmos. Calms me right down.
posted by giraffe at 6:37 PM on November 3, 2012

The main thing I got out of Cosmos back in the day is it was my introduction to Vangelis.

THAT was worth the whole series.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:52 PM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and voila.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:53 PM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I was applying to Dartmouth, one of the questions was something like, "who would you most like to study with, and why". I chose Yale graduate Carl Sagan. Needless to say, I didn't go to Dartmouth. To this day I wish I had become an astro-physicist...

I'm going to be renting Cosmos soon, and making my kids watch it.
posted by Windopaene at 6:56 PM on November 3, 2012

Ran across this quote from Demon Haunted World (1995) recently:
I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time—when the Unites States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.
posted by gwint at 7:03 PM on November 3, 2012 [20 favorites]

A very long time ago, my mother wanted me to go to bed. I pled with her - this is a very good show, and it's on channel 11!!!

She came into the family room to lay down the law, watched about ten seconds, and said "you can stay up."

That Christmas, she bought me the book. "To Erik, with much hope for the future. love, Mom."

Thanks, Mom, for letting me stay up.
posted by eriko at 7:10 PM on November 3, 2012 [41 favorites]

I think if anyone can take up the mantle, and now seems to be the time, it's Neil. I can't wait to see what he does with it.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 7:21 PM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's interesting to note that the new Cosmos series is being developed by Seth MacFarlane.

Yes, THAT Seth MacFarlane.
posted by hippybear at 7:27 PM on November 3, 2012

This sort of thing was a slam dunk for a kid who was fanatical about memorizing the various periods of rotation and revolution of the planets and so forth since kindergarten. We didn't have a VCR when Cosmos came on, but I would dutifully record the Channel 9 broadcasts onto audio cassettes. My mother's crush on Sagan was probably a byproduct of my obsession with the show. Later, I'd run across Blade Runner and think "I know that music!"

Did anyone else start imagining the various Jovian-style creature sequences when reading The Algebraist?
posted by adipocere at 7:41 PM on November 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think if anyone can take up the mantle, and now seems to be the time, it's Stewie. I can't wait to see what he does with it.
posted by hal9k at 7:43 PM on November 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

This makes me want to take a light-speed bike ride through a village in Italy.

Damn, you all got old!
posted by ShutterBun at 8:05 PM on November 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

My eight year old keeps asking us to calculate time dilation effects because of that damn scooter ride. Thank you, Internet, and a basic grasp of mathematics.
posted by mollweide at 8:10 PM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Additionally, I have Cosmos, M*A*S*H, and The Hitchhiker's Guide to Galaxy books/TV series to blame/thank for far too much of my personality than I should probably admit.
posted by mollweide at 8:20 PM on November 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've owned the series for years but I cannot watch it without becoming overwhelmed by melancholia. The loss of Carl is one thing, but that we as a society must keep having to fight the anti-rational forces of conservatism rather than embracing truth and -- I think of what we could do in such a world free of fear and hate with Carl's sense of optimism and wonder, and simply break down.

Neil is great but I don't know if he could make dreams as real as Carl could. I will watch his show, though.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:36 PM on November 3, 2012 [10 favorites]

Well, I know what I'm doing for the next 15 hours...
posted by a hat out of hell at 9:23 PM on November 3, 2012

This is just a funny moment of synchronicity for me, as I just stumbled across Cosmos a few days ago on youtube and have been re-watching it incrementally.
posted by selenized at 9:27 PM on November 3, 2012

Ok, this is making me profoundly sad. I know the words of some of his passages like much-loved songs. That's how much I read the book "Cosmos" and watched the show. And I don't even like Vangelis!
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 10:07 PM on November 3, 2012

I will always love Carl Sagan for the time he came to my college campus and assured us Floridians that, although it would take hundreds of years, yes, California would one day sink into the ocean, and we would forever more be the one and only Sunshine State.
posted by misha at 10:18 PM on November 3, 2012

It's interesting to note that the new Cosmos series is being developed by Seth MacFarlane.

Yes, THAT Seth MacFarlane.

MacFarlane also recently acquired and donated Carl Sagan's papers to the Library of Congress.
posted by HumuloneRanger at 10:20 PM on November 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

It's interesting to note that the new Cosmos series is being developed by Seth MacFarlane.

"Our radio and television broadcasts will continue to travel on through the interstellar void, long after we will have died out as a species. In 80,000 years, they'll receive episodes of Bosom Buddies and wonder how Tom Hanks established a career as a serious actor. Let's watch them make tired pop culture jokes about that!"
posted by JHarris at 12:30 AM on November 4, 2012

As an Western Spiral Armer living on Earth, and loving Carl Sagan, I was very excited when I heard this was commissioned, and thinking here is someone who can do justice to the vast unknown world of the physics, chemistry and biology of non-cliche, non Sol / Milky Way, Local Group to the Terran public.

I was vastly disappointed in this. I don't think its Sagan's fault, just that it was a PBS commission trying to do it all in a 13 episode series. All seemingly researched and produced on a much faster turnaround without much insightful story selection and too much emphasis on quick quirk. Set up to fail.

This should have been a Sub-Etha series with a much longer run in order to do it justice.

Oddly, Stephen Fry's USA series was everything this one should have been. That was a very smartly researched and produced series that gave some real insider views of America that the holonet doesn't usually get.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:14 AM on November 4, 2012

I love Carl Sagan. I love cosmology. But jeepers creepers, that show makes me sleepy. I'm not sure why. Pacing, maybe. But also, damn it all, I'm more than half dead.
posted by Goofyy at 5:43 AM on November 4, 2012

Two Carl anecdotes:

1. At work, I tape up two photos as a nod to some of my personal heroes and a reminder to keep things calm and rational. This one of Carl Sagan and this one of Mr. Rogers and the Dalai Lama.

2. I use this quote from Cosmos (episode 5, Blues for a Red Planet) in my email sig. Specifically, the bolded part, but the whole quote is poetic and true.

The beauty of a living thing is not the atoms that go into it, but the way those atoms are put together. Information distilled over 4 billion years of biological evolution. Incidentally, all the organisms on the Earth are made essentially of that stuff. An eyedropper full of that liquid could be used to make a caterpillar or a petunia if only we knew how to put the components together.
posted by zooropa at 8:10 AM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

To continue the slight derail into Carl Sagan (as opposed to Cosmos-specific), check out this bit (it's at about the 49 minute point) of Robert Picardo reading an excerpt from Pale Blue Dot at the Voyager 35th anniversary back in September. Ann Druyan, his wife and collaborator on Cosmos, also appears at around the 55 minute mark, albeit with some audio problems. I had a couple excuse-me-there's-space-dust-in-my-eye moments there.

It looks like the Pale Blue Dot video is also featured on Picardo's website, but I think the whole 35th anniversary video is pretty awesome.
posted by foonly at 9:04 AM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

we would forever more be the one and only Sunshine State.

unless, of course, rising sea levels inundate florida before tectonic forces push california into the sea. you both can forever be known as the mesopelagic states.
posted by camdan at 9:19 AM on November 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I miss Carl Sagan, and I miss the time when we cared about the Universe and believed in science and reaching further than our grasp. Now people cheerfully believe in Creationism, deny evolution and science, believe in demonic possession, etc.
posted by theora55 at 12:15 PM on November 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Bah, I'm depressed that my (Previously) didn't make the OP, here. That was ...10 years ago. Jesus, I'm old.
posted by thanotopsis at 12:25 PM on November 4, 2012

Sorry, camdan, I can't hear you! I have my fingers in my ears.

Seriously, though, Carl Sagan was cool, and a great speaker. After his speech, he took questions from the audience. They were supposed to be at least somewhat relevant to Science!, but of course some Bro stood up and asked, to the accompaniment of frat boy cheers, "How come some girls say they don't want it when they know they do?"

Yeah, I know. Even back then, and we are talking pre-1990, that was obnoxiously sexist.

But Sagan stepped up, took it on as a serious question, and suggested that either 1) The Bro's premise was wrong, women didn't "want it" and the guy needed to take no as an answer (resounding cheer from the women in the crowd) or 2) His premise was right, but the women weren't sure they "wanted it" from him, in which case the best thing to do was treat them with respect and consideration while they figured it out, because they could always "get it" from somebody else (another resounding cheer).

Good guy, Carl Sagan.
posted by misha at 12:57 PM on November 4, 2012 [8 favorites]

...ok, now that I've had a chance to sample the links in the original post, I see I've duplicated some of them, down to the quote from Pale Blue Dot. Although Robert Picardo has a good voice for the material too. And, go! Planetary Society, co-founded by Sagan in the same year that Cosmos came out.

aaah, 1980...the year I also discovered OMNI...
posted by foonly at 1:24 PM on November 4, 2012

That music! That voice! That voice that is also music!
posted by deo rei at 1:32 PM on November 4, 2012

Love love love these, thanks.
Are there an recent series that are comparable in quality, but update everything with the last 30 years of research?
posted by Theta States at 7:37 PM on November 4, 2012

There's one being made right now. Just be patient.
posted by hippybear at 7:46 PM on November 4, 2012

Are there an recent series that are comparable in quality...

I'll have to go back and rewatch the Cosmos episodes to compare (hmmm, think I'll have to take a day off work...), but I think Brian Cox's Wonders of the Solar System was pretty good. I think the followup series, Wonders of the Universe, wasn't quite as good (too many helicopter shots of him wandering around mountaintops and waterfalls and such), but still worth watching.
posted by foonly at 10:20 PM on November 4, 2012

Of course, there's always that Sagan biography (no, the OTHER one), where you can learn that he was a philanderer, a pothead, a bad husband (his first wife referred to their shared family home as "a torture chamber, shared with children"), a permissive parent, and an enabler of sexually forward dolphins. So there's that. (Recommended, btw.)
posted by Sonny Jim at 1:00 AM on November 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks for this post. I own the DVD set, and I still have a copy of the companion book my much younger self got as a huge fan of the show.

Fun fact: The astronomy class at my alma mater was regarded as an easy A -- it was cumulative, and offered many ways to accumulate points -- one of which was watching episodes of Cosmos.
posted by Gelatin at 11:03 AM on November 5, 2012

I'm glad this was in time for Carl Sagan's Birthday, otherwise known as Carl Sagan Day! Happy 78th, Carl Sagan, wish you were here to enjoy it with us (and that Google had given you a doodle).
posted by Leucistic Cuttlefish at 1:16 PM on November 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

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