Last Sunday FOX TV premiered the opening episode of Neil deGrasse Tyson's new "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey" series. The original "Cosmos," subtitled "A Personal Voyage," was hosted by Carl Sagan, the well known astrophysicist/cosmologist, in 1980. Both the original "Cosmos" and the new series were co-written and co-produced by Carl Sagan's wife Ann Druyan. Sagan's dream was to bring science and the thirst for knowledge to the public, taking science out of the dark and cold classroom and bring it into a new focus and light. He wanted to present science on a level that everyone could understand and enjoy, to show the beauty and wonder that our universe holds.
Why would a top cosmologist who worked everything from Voyager I to Mars missions care so much about making science more visible to the public? Sagan understood that humans do indeed want to know more, that we want to reach for a better understanding of the world around us. He understood that lack of access to higher education makes learning about subjects like physics and cosmology out of bounds for the average person, that generally only people with Ph.D.s could grasp these subjects.
So Carl and Ann decided to make a television show that would open people's minds to the wonders of science, to show humans where we have been in our development of sciences and where we are headed. Sagan was deeply troubled with the direction he saw the world going in during the 1980s. He saw the potential nuclear destruction of the Cold War, he saw the warning signs of climate change, and the lack of funding for public education. These thing worried him. He talked often in "Cosmos" about where humanity is going and where we need to go.
One day Sagan spent time with a young man who was influenced by Carl's work. The young man also had a dream of studying and understanding the cosmos. This young man was Neil deGrasse Tyson, who would grow up to become an astrophysicist like Sagan and take over where Sagan left off, bringing the wonders of the universe to the public. Tyson is the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and a very popular commentator on science, appearing frequently on TV. He hosted "NOVA ScienceNow" on PBS from 2006-2011.
Last Sunday's premiere "Cosmos" episode took viewers on a voyage in an upgraded ship of imagination. It brought the planets and their moons into the homes of the viewers with artistic brilliance. This "Cosmos" deals with the things that Carl Sagan touched on in the original show, bringing facts up to date and bringing them to life with new technology - just as Sagan would have wanted.
One of the new features of this "Cosmos" is the use of animation to teach science history. I'm hoping that this show will try to be less Eurocentric about science history, that it will branch out and talk about non-European scientists and their contributions to how we view science today.
My favorite part of this first episode was when Tyson talked about his connection with Carl Sagan, and his love for science, how Carl's interest in this young person helped him become the scientist he is today. I grew up with Carl Sagan and the first "Cosmos." it opened the doors to science for me; it taught me that learning and wanting to learn more about the universe is an amazing thing. I hope that the new generation of viewers, and the older generation of viewers, are inspired to learn. To continue the cosmic voyage that Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan started in the 1980s and see where Neil deGrasse Tyson can take us during this time in Earth history. This new "Cosmos" if done right has the power to bring us the next Carl Sagan or Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Take the "Cosmos" trip on Sundays, FOX, 9 p.m. Eastern Time, 8 p.m. Central, and on Mondays, National Geographic, 10 p.m. Eastern, 9 p.m. Central. 1 hour. If you missed the premiere episode, "Standing Up in the Milky Way," catch it here.
Photo: Dec. 31 on the cosmic calendar.