22 years ago, 13 hours of television changed my life.
September 9, 2002 6:53 AM   Subscribe

22 years ago, 13 hours of television changed my life. I was just 11 years old when I saw Cosmos for the first time. Carl Sagan's explanation of the "Billions and Billions" of stars in our universe was often heckled, but I always related to the wonder of the magnitude that he was trying to relate. Vangelis was responsible for the soundtrack (the same folks behind the music from Chariots of Fire and Blade Runner), and listening to it today, I feel the stirrings of emotion that brought me running to Science at an early age.

If you're looking for a gift for a child in your life this holiday season, I suggest the DVD Compilation. Make sure to buy it from the carlsagan.com site, as 10% of the proceeds go to the Carl Sagan Foundation.
posted by thanotopsis (44 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Truly a power set. I haven't yet bought it , but honestly I have been keeping an eye openned for the DVD release so that I could secure a set for my son. Truly we are made of starstuff.
posted by shagoth at 7:07 AM on September 9, 2002

I'm thrilled to learn that I'm not the only one who was just riveted by that show! I've yet to see any newer science programming that comes close to being as engaging and informative.
posted by Fenriss at 7:16 AM on September 9, 2002

I remember being a young tyke and being absolutely devastated by the part of Cosmos that talked about the eventual death of the sun. I didn't really have a full conception of what "millyuns" and "billyuns" really were at the time.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 7:20 AM on September 9, 2002 [1 favorite]

What is the point of the browser-window resize command they have on that page? Moves it to the left of the screen and whams it down to 700 pixels. It's not like it needs it. Plain rude, I say.
posted by humuhumu at 7:25 AM on September 9, 2002

Don't forget Sagan denied ever saying they exact words "billions and billions" because they would have been too imprecise.

I enjoyed Sagan's Cosmos as a kid and admired the man later as a scientist and skeptic. I'm still waiting for another like him to step forward into the mainstram.
posted by quirked at 7:27 AM on September 9, 2002

Also, it's very cool that this is being released as a region zero DVD (though that might end up confusing some players).
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 7:29 AM on September 9, 2002

Maintram or mainsteam, either one.
posted by quirked at 7:29 AM on September 9, 2002

/* This will Automatically Maximize The Browser Window*/

nice try.
posted by fatbaq at 7:29 AM on September 9, 2002

(95% off-topic)

I thought Vangelis was a person, not a group. Am i under some delusion?
posted by GeekAnimator at 7:33 AM on September 9, 2002

(one more)

whenever I think of Cosmos, it's soon after that I think of James Burke's Connections. Both were great at inculcating a love of knowledge and thinking to many an egghead of my acquaintance.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 7:34 AM on September 9, 2002 [1 favorite]

GeekAnimator - he's a person, all right, bu this website is "under construction"

And I loved Cosmos. I know what I'll be asking Santa for this year.
posted by jazon at 7:40 AM on September 9, 2002

"For each and every subject covered, Vangelis intends to invest his website an aunthenticity that will make it unique as an information window."

I think something was lost in the translation...

but yes he is a solo artist, not a group
posted by fatbaq at 7:45 AM on September 9, 2002

"billions and billions"... Oh yeah, my mom even bought me the companion book to the series. I watched it like I had watched nothing before.
posted by greengrl at 7:45 AM on September 9, 2002

One of television's truly shining moments.
posted by tommyspoon at 7:46 AM on September 9, 2002

I remember reading the book at the age of 9, and watching it not long afterwards on PBS. I cannot wait to pick up the compilation!
posted by jasonbondshow at 7:48 AM on September 9, 2002

PinkStainlessTail: James Burke's Connections was excellent, as was his follow-up The Day the Universe Changed. If any one knows where I can get these on DVD please let me know.
posted by gazingus at 7:48 AM on September 9, 2002

I haven't seen them on DVD, but I do have The Day the Universe Changed in dead tree format. It's a pretty good read, though I don't think anything was expanded from the series. I actually read the book first then caught a couple of episodes on PBS.
posted by substrate at 7:58 AM on September 9, 2002

I remember watching it on a tiny portable black and white TV in my parents room, since no one else in the family wanted to see it. Now is my chance to see it in color!
posted by JoanArkham at 8:00 AM on September 9, 2002

GeekAnimator -- you're right, Vangelis is just one person, not a group.

But also, he's not the only one responsible for the music, I've got the soundtrack right here: Vangelis, Leopold Stokowski, G. Yamaguchi, Pachabel, Vivaldi, Isao Tomita, Arthur Grumiaux, Alan Hovhaness, Larry Fast, Toru Takemitsu, Ernest Ansermet, Toy Buchanan, Eduardo Mata, V. Balkanska, L. Kanevski, and S. Zakmanov are also credited.

Vangelis was responsible for much of the music, but certainly not all of it.

That said, I can't wait to get this DVD :)
posted by LuxFX at 8:08 AM on September 9, 2002

oh, and I also agree with Gazingas -- Burke's show is excellent! Connections, then Connections2, and he's working on Connections3 right now. I've recently bought (but have yet to read) his book, The Knowledge Web
posted by LuxFX at 8:12 AM on September 9, 2002

Was that James Burke programme the one where naked 18th century people kept leaping all over each other? I loved that.
posted by Summer at 8:40 AM on September 9, 2002

When Cosmos aired, I was in high school and well prepared for it, as I'd already read Sagan's The Dragons of Eden and a work similar in scope to Cosmos, George H. Gamow's One Two Three...Infinity. I recommend them both (among many others) for the budding scientist or science enthusiast.
posted by alumshubby at 8:44 AM on September 9, 2002

It's hard to believe it's been almost six years since we lost Carl Sagan. He inspired an insatiable interest within me (and countless others) to explore the wonders of science. His gift was an undying passion for science, and the ability to make complex ideas easily accessible to most. Cosmos, both the book and the PBS series, is the best proof of that. I have read the book twice, and seen the 13 part series at least 3 or 4 times.

Thx, Carl...wherever you are.


"To make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe." C.S.
posted by saturn5 at 9:37 AM on September 9, 2002

A few weeks ago I finished watching all 13 episodes of Cosmos for the first time ever. Needless to say, some of you may understand the inspiration and hope that Sagan and his series has instilled in me. It's still fresh in my mind.
I wish I had seen the show much earlier and through most of it, I kept asking myself, "What took me so long?".

And saturn5, you quoted my favorite line of the series. Before I even realized how famous it was, I had it written down and placed on my refrigerator door.
As a reminder.
posted by mayalucia at 9:57 AM on September 9, 2002

Sorry to stay on the Burke derailment:

gazingus: TDTUC is still only on video and for sale only to educational entity's for $750 US (or $80 US ea.)

LuxFX: Connections 3 is completed and sitting on my shelf at home (on VHS). I can't remember where we got it, but I know this place is selling all of the Connections programs - including the original BBC Connections on DVD, which means along with the Sagan dvd's, somebody in my house is getting way too much cool science stuff for Christmas.

As for what Burke is doing right now, I have read that he is finishing up a book called "1+1=3...." that is supposed to come out this fall. He has also been working on his Knowledge Web project, that seems pretty cool and was written up in Wired about needing more volunteers.
posted by thatothrgirl at 10:16 AM on September 9, 2002

I adored Cosmos on PBS, I'm going to put the DVDs on my amazon wishlist. I've read the book, and it covers all the same points... but *sigh* it just not quite the same. I want the Spaceship of the Imagination darnit.
posted by BartFargo at 10:22 AM on September 9, 2002

When Cosmos aired, I was in high school and well prepared for it, as I'd already read Sagan's The Dragons of Eden and a work similar in scope to Cosmos, George H. Gamow's One Two Three...Infinity. I recommend them both (among many others) for the budding scientist or science enthusiast.

I'd stay up late too watching Cosmos as a kid reveling in that eerie but wonderful sensation that there was so much more to learn, so many seemingly impenetrable mysteries yet to be tackled. It's funny you should mention Gamow. It was his book Thirty Years that shook Physics that introduced me at a young age to quantum theory. I re-read that book until it was ragged, determined to understand it.
posted by vacapinta at 10:47 AM on September 9, 2002

That was also the first time I'd heard the Beavis & Butthead-safe pronunciation of the 7th planet: YOURuhnuss
posted by HTuttle at 11:43 AM on September 9, 2002

Am I the only one who first read the post as: "...I was just 11 years old when I saw Cosmo for the first time..."
posted by gluechunk at 12:18 PM on September 9, 2002

excellent linkage, thatothrgirl -- and very much appreciated!
posted by LuxFX at 12:28 PM on September 9, 2002

I'm writing an astronomy book right now, and I'm starting off the book with the famous "We are all made of starstuff" quote from Sagan. Sagan didn't get a whole lot of respect from his scientific peers for popularizing astronomy to the masses, but by putting a human face on his science, Sagan did more for the cause of astronomy than most astronomers ever manage (He did also do some solid science too, but that's another story entirely). One of the big thrills for me about writing my astro book is that in some way I'll help to do what Sagan did: Show people that the universe, while immense, is knowable to the average Joe. If you want people to respect and accept science, that's an important thing to do.
posted by jscalzi at 12:50 PM on September 9, 2002

If you enjoyed Cosmos then you might also be interested in the book "The Discoverers" by Daniel Boorstin. One of the most amazing books I've ever read.
posted by cmdnc0 at 12:53 PM on September 9, 2002

Sagan apparently liked to dance with Mary Jane as well, something only revealed posthumously. Groovy, and it's a bit more clear now why he always appealed to me.

But I always thought it was spelled "billllllyuns."
posted by krinklyfig at 1:15 PM on September 9, 2002

Does anyone remember the episode when Sagan first explained the term "Google"? It was either his nephew or a colleague's little kid who supposedly invented the word to describe a "really big number".

Of course all these years later, if that story is true, the kid must be kicking himself for missing out on a "really big number" of name-patent bucks. Or maybe he helped found Google?

I still occasionally check out "Cosmos" from my public Library. Gotta have the DVD.
posted by Cedric at 1:20 PM on September 9, 2002

But wait, if you order now you'll also receive this handsome set of Ginsu Steak Knives.

(I didn't realize MetaFilter was now accepting infomercials as front page material)
posted by briank at 1:23 PM on September 9, 2002

(I didn't realize MetaFilter was now accepting infomercials as front page material)

I suppose that's a warranted criticism. However, I'd like to defend myself by saying that I've been looking for the Cosmos compilation for many years now.

The revelation that it was now on DVD was quite a surprise for me, and being a great supporter of Carl Sagan's, I was doubly impressed that the official site was donating proceeds to his foundation.

I don't work for that site, nor do I have even the remotest affiliation. I'm simply a fan of Sagan's work.
posted by thanotopsis at 2:41 PM on September 9, 2002

Cedric, you're thinking of Dr. Kasner's nephew. Per the OED entry for googol:
 A fanciful name (not in formal use) for ten raised to the hundredth power (10100). Also googolplex [cf. -plex in multiplex, complex], a name for ten raised to the power of a googol.
1940 KASNER & NEWMAN Math. & Imagination i. 23 The name ‘googol’ was invented by a child (Dr. Kasner's nine-year-old nephew) who was asked to think up a name for a very big number, namely, 1 with a hundred zeros after it... At the same time that he suggested ‘googol’ he gave a name for a still larger number: ‘Googolplex’. Ibid. 25 A googol is 10100; a googolplex is 10 to the googol power. 1945 Astounding Science Fiction Jan. 126/2 George Brown..was the only one who came within a googol of light-years of guessing what they were. 1953 Time 6 July 68/2 Parade..spoofed the whole practice with a circulation brochure to prove that it is headed unmistakably toward the ‘googol’. 1966 OGILVY & ANDERSON Excurs. Number Theory ix. 111 The googol..can easily be written out in full in about two lines of print.
posted by gluechunk at 2:50 PM on September 9, 2002

While we're celebrating the good doctor's work, let me confirm that the Cosmos DVD set is awesome: it includes "science update" segments he recorded around 1990, and a subtitle track adds more-recent updates, too, e.g. Mars Pathfinder.

While I never quite became a scientist, Sagan's lucid analogies on heavy topics greatly affected my thinking at 9 years old. I'll never be able to forget how a Vespa scooter zooming through a charming Italian town acted as a stand-in for general relativity.

Suggestion: If you thought "Contact" was even-somewhat-okay on the big screen, pick it up in print -- it's a whole different experience.

I'm grateful to have had a chance to hear him lecture about SETI-related topics in Austin before he passed away, and he amazed me with his still-boylike wonder as he told his story and answered questions from the audience.

Fortunately, his wife and writing partner (Ann Druyan) is helping to keep his stories alive. Shine on, Carl...
posted by skyboy at 4:53 PM on September 9, 2002

Two favorite memories from the series (I was six):
"The cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be."
And: "A piece of paper with a googleplex written out on it could not be stuffed into the known universe."
posted by Mapes at 7:04 PM on September 9, 2002

Thanks for this post. The hardcover of Cosmos was one of the first books I ever read. First I was enchanted by the Don Davis paintings; then I practiced reading (and coloring) on it.

And I, too, as a little girl, was horrified by the idea of the dying sun. "Millions of years from now, there will be one last perfect day . . ."
posted by Ahmose Nefertari at 7:46 PM on September 9, 2002

The chapter and episode "Who Speaks for Earth" has always been something of a tearjerker for me. It's end of the line hopefulness about what Earth can become if we focus our energies normally reserved for nationalism and religious faith is the most profound collection of thoughts and insight, to this day, I've ever read. Dr. Sagan truly has been missed this past year. Here, look at the post I made 9-11-2001 (nobody cared for it of course).

In many ways I credit the Cosmos series, and later, every last Sagan authored book that I promptly inhaled in some five or six months, for bringing me out of my adolescent malaise.

I miss Carl Sagan.
posted by crasspastor at 8:06 PM on September 9, 2002

Yikes! I just started re-reading Cosmos last night. Get out of my head, Metafilter!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:52 PM on September 9, 2002

I'm sorry to break up the party here, but "fully international edition" doesn't help this European soul when it's only in ntsc...

On the other hand, I too started browsing Cosmos after reading this... It still blows my mind, even after more than half my life.
posted by sparehed at 11:52 PM on September 9, 2002

I remember watching Carl touring the Library of Alexandria. Place was going to burn down anyway; could not figure out why he didn't grab an armload of scrolls to bring back home in his milkweed seed ship.
posted by otherchaz at 12:26 AM on September 13, 2002

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