Searching out Sagan in Ithaca

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)