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As a famous scientist, author, television show host, and researcher, Carl Sagan made a huge impact on the world of science, space and planetary studies.

History of Carl Sagan Day

Always having a keen mind for astronomy and science, Carl Sagan spent his life pursuing education and research in the world of space and planetary discoveries. Though he encouraged skeptical and critical thinking, Sagan was a personality that often considered thinking creatively, particularly when it came to the possibility of life on other planets.

Working as a vital resource for NASA space missions, a popular science author, a pioneer in exobiology and a professor of astronomy at Cornell University, Carl Sagan offered the world a unique perspective. Some of his most important contributions include the discovery of the high temperatures on the surface of the planet Venus, as well as understanding of the seasonal changes on the planet Mars, and the comprehension of the atmospheres of both Jupiter and Venus.

In the common world, Sagan is much more well-known for his popular science theories, particularly his books written to encourage lay people as well as his PBS television program called Cosmos. Living on the edge of the scientific world, Sagan was known for his interest in extraterrestrial beings and what the future might look like for humans in space.

Carl Sagan Day was founded in 2009 by the Center for Inquiry in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in cooperation with the Florida Atheists and Secular Humanists (FLASH). Situated on this day in honor of Carl Sagan’s date of birth in 1934, Carl Sagan Day is here to celebrate and honor the unique contributions of this scientist.

Carl Sagan Day Timeline


Carl Sagan earns a doctoral degree

After earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics from University of Chicago in 1955 and 1956, Sagan goes on to get doctoral degrees in astrophysics and astronomy.[1]


Sagan helps found the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI)

Originally known as the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, founding members include B.F. Skinner, Isaac Asimov and other scientists.[2]


Carl Sagan’s show “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage” premiers

This science series is first broadcast on PBS and will become the most widely watched PBS series in the world.[3]


Film “Contact” is released

Inspired by Carl Sagan’s book of the same name, Contact shows the author’s ideas that aliens would be good-natured and friendly.[4]


Center for the Study of Life in the Cosmos is dedicated

On what would have been Sagan’s 67th birthday, plans for the center and the cornerstone are revealed to the public.[5]

How to Celebrate Carl Sagan Day

Observe and celebrate the birth of this unique scientist on Carl Sagan Day! Consider implementing some of these ideas for enjoying and raising awareness for the day:

Watch the film Contact

In 1997, a year after his death, the film Contact was released, inspired by the stories and ideas that were found in Carl Sagan’s book of the same name written in 1985. Starring Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey, this movie offered the unique idea to the world that aliens who connected with humans would not be violent but would, instead, be friendly, compassionate and interested.

Make a Visit to a Planetarium

Those who are interested in learning more about space and taking a personal look at what is out in the cosmos might want to plan a visit to a planetarium in honor of Carl Sagan Day. After all, Sagan was a professor of astronomy and that discipline involves everything to do with looking at the world outside of the planet Earth.

A planetarium is a special kind of theater that allows for participants to learn about astronomy and, particularly, viewing presentations about the night sky. It’s a great way for an individual, student, family or school class to get started exploring the solar system, galaxy and even further beyond. With more than 350 permanent planetarium exhibits in the US, it shouldn’t be difficult to find one to enjoy.

Learn More About Carl Sagan’s Work

A well-known, and somewhat controversial author, Carl Sagan’s work offers many opportunities for learning about science as well as dreaming about science fiction. Consider starting out some Carl Sagan research and learning with one of these books:

  • Cosmos (1980)

    This popular science book by Sagan is one of the world’s best selling books about science and traces the 14 billion years of the existence and evolution of the cosmos.

  • The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (1995)

    Seeking to explain various aspects of science through the lens of laypeople, Sagan encourages the reader to embrace skeptical and critical thinking.

  • The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God (2006)

    Edited by his wife, Ann Druyan, ten years after his death, this book is a collection of Carl Sagan’s talks on the study of natural theology, searching for the “sacred in the vastness of the cosmos”. 

  • Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space (1994)

    The sequel to Sagan’s book, Cosmos, the title of this book refers the the photograph taken in 1990 by the Voyager 1 space probe. The book philosophizes about the place that humans have in the universe.

Visit Cornell University

Carl Sagan spent a number of years working as a professor of astronomy at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. In honor of Carl Sagan Day, perhaps a visit to the university’s science center would be a great way to spend the day. Take a walk through the area, tour the campus, visit the library to find some of Sagan’s books, and just soak up some Carl Sagan vibes in the atmosphere!

Host a Carl Sagan Day Party

In honor of Carl Sagan Day, it might be a great idea to invite a few friends over to host a viewing of the movie Contact. Go a little further and make it a party by inviting guests to dress up as their favorite scientist or alien. Offer space themed snacks such as cookies decorated like the planets of the solar system. Perhaps offer a reading of an excerpt of one of Sagan’s books, or show clips of his 1980s PBS television show, Cosmos.

Make a Donation to Science Research

Those who are interested in helping others continue on with the brave work and efforts of scientists like Sagan might want to consider making a donation in honor of Carl Sagan Day. The Carl Sagan Institute is just one of many exceptional science centers that could use assistance in the form of financial support.
Founded with the purpose of finding life in the universe, the Carl Sagan Institute at Cornell University bases its research on the pioneering work of its namesake. With an interdisciplinary team, the center is developing tools that will make it possible to detect other forms of life in our galaxy and even beyond.

Carl Sagan Day FAQs

Who was Carl Sagan?

Carl Sagan was an American author and scientist in the areas of planetary science, cosmology, astronomy, astrophysiology, astrobiology and science communication.[1]

What did Carl Sagan discover?

Sagan’s research helped to learn about the high surface temperatures on the planet Venus, the seasonal changes on Mars and the red haze of Titan. [2]

Did Carl Sagan go to space?

While he made many important contributions to NASA and the space program, Carl Sagan did not go to space.[3]

When did Carl Sagan die?

Carl Sagan died in December, 1996, after battling a bone marrow disease for two years.[4]

Was Carl Sagan married?

Carl Sagan was married three times and had five children.[5]

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