Searching out Sagan in Ithaca

by Elizabeth Howell on November 28, 2012

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Taking a break from reading Pale Blue Dot in Carl Sagan’s hometown of Ithaca, New York. (Elizabeth Howell)

I never knew of Carl Sagan as a living human being, as I missed him by mere months. I read Pale Blue Dot sometime in 1997, if my memory serves, sometime after the movie Contact (based on his book) came out in theaters and I asked my parents what the “FOR CARL” dedication was at the end of the movie.

At a time when I was all awkward teenagerhood, Sagan’s writing showed me a Universe of beauty. Not organized beauty, to be sure, but a destination worth exploring. Worth learning more about, even from a humble perch on Earth.

Sagan had a bit of everything in him: a knowledge of philosophy and history, an influence on early NASA missions, an ability to take the Universe and make it homey enough to show on television screens and in books.

His formative research years were at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. More than 15 years after his death, he’s actually pretty easy to find in that town.

Carl Sagan’s grave in Lakeview Cemetery in Ithaca, New York, adorned with blue marbles. It’s between the two trees in this map. (Elizabeth Howell)

The exterior of the Space Sciences building at Cornell University, where Carl Sagan spent his most influential research years. (Elizabeth Howell)

Carl Sagan’s picture at the Sciencenter in Ithaca. He was a founding member of the science museum’s advisory board. (Elizabeth Howell)

Our Sun shining upon an exhibit of Neptune in Ithaca’s Planet Walk. The 1200-meter walk has the distances of all the planets in the solar system to scale. The exhibition was created in honor of Carl Sagan’s memory, and has a podcast available that is narrated by one of his students: Bill Nye, the Science Guy. (Elizabeth Howell)


Elizabeth Howell is the senior writer at Universe Today. She also works for, Space Exploration Network, the NASA Lunar Science Institute, NASA Astrobiology Magazine and LiveScience, among others. Career highlights include watching three shuttle launches, and going on a two-week simulated Mars expedition in rural Utah. You can follow her on Twitter @howellspace or contact her at her website.

The_Bobs November 28, 2012 at 11:46 PM

I got to see Carl speak at MIT when I was a student there in the mid 1970′s. Something I will never forget.

Skipdallas November 29, 2012 at 2:31 PM

Carl Sagan’s sense of awe, wonder, and exuberance was contagious. I first came to know about him through the series “Cosmos”. I lived a block away from the hospital where he died in Seattle in 1996. That was a sad day for “Millions and Millions”. He has been maligned as a science popularizer. Well, to those scientists I say: Guilty as charged! Carl DID popularize science. This country could use a lot more of this! I would dare say that hundreds of bright intelligent young people have gone into the “Sciences” because of Carl.
Also: A country that is Interested in science, will SUPPORT it with funding of various kinds. Carl is missed. RIP

Larry Hank November 30, 2012 at 4:36 AM

I never missed one episode of Cosmos and watched the reruns. It doesn’t seem that long ago. I can still hear Give Peace a Chance playing softly in the back ground. Thanks for artical Elizabeth.

Terry November 30, 2012 at 1:53 AM

Not bad. Had you contacted the Sagan Appreciation Society first, you could have hit even more Sagan hotspots.

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