There are few things more important than understanding the nature of the universe and our place in it. It’s been less than 100 years since Edwin Hubble discovered other galaxies beyond our own Milky Way. It’s just over 150 years since all the planets of our own solar system were discovered–around the same time we discovered that, like all other life on earth, we evolved through natural selection from earlier life forms. It’s only been about 450 years that we have known that the earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around. All of this is simply to say that our understanding of the size and scope of the universe and of our true place in it is relatively new. Thousands of generations of humans have come and gone in complete ignorance of these facts. It is we, those of us who are here now, who know.
Or at least we should. I’d like to think that every human being on the earth has been told the truth, has been taught these facts of our existence. Everyone should know that we evolved by natural selection from other more primitive life forms over a period of 3.8 billion years, that we live on a planet that is 4.5 billion years old, that our sun is one of 400 billion others in our galaxy, that there are at least 100 billion other galaxies in the universe–and that it seems all but certain that life, even intelligent life, exists on other planets. Sadly, there are probably many people who do not know these facts–or who reject them.
One of the ways people of my generation learned about these things was the television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, which aired on public television in 1980. If you’ve never seen it–or haven’t seen it in 30 years–you really should watch it. It’s on Netflix instant streaming and, oddly, also on youtube.
Astronomer Carl Sagan hosted and narrated the series. He was an avuncular college professor type whose enthusiasm and passion for the subject was infectious, and whose warmth made some of the more overwhelming truths more palatable–a sort of scientific Mr. Rogers. I know many people of my generation who miss him.
But, hey, good news! Apparently a sequel series is in the works. Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey is scheduled to air this coming spring on Fox and the National Geographic Channel. It will be hosted by astrophysicist and television personality Neil deGrasse Tyson.
This should be good.