On September 28th, 1980, the groundbreaking television series, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage was first broadcast on PBS, and to this day, still stands as the most watched television series that has aired on the network. Cosmos was written by Ann Druyan, Steven Soter, and Carl Sagan, who also presented the series.
Carl Sagan, who was an astrophysicist and astronomer, understood the importance and influence that digital media would have on a generation, and a large number of today’s scientists and engineers have stated that watching the series at a young age greatly peaked their scientific interest and curiosity. In a recent piece on National Geographic, Patrick J. Kiger wrote:
"…Sagan generally wasn’t thrilled with the portrayal of science on TV—a discontent that he got to remedy when he signed on in 1979 to develop and host Cosmos for PBS. Instead of a dull science lecture, Sagan envisioned a program that would make the fullest use of television’s visual possibilities, including special effects and computer animation, and send viewers hurtling on a spaceship between cosmic destinations, when they weren’t contemplating a “cosmic calendar” that compressed the history of the universe into the equivalent of a single Earth year. As he said at the time, his goal was to make it so that “people could turn the sound off and still enjoy the series.” The production cost a then-hefty $8 million, making it the most expensive program ever created for public television.
But in the end, Sagan’s flamboyance and willingness to take risks paid off handsomely, as Cosmos became both a critical success a massive international hit. That success demonstrated that audiences would watch science, if it was presented in an entertaining fashion, and helped pave the way for generations of other science programming.”
The legacy of this television series can still be felt today, as Druyan and Soter, along with producer Seth McFarlane, teammed up Neil deGrasse Tyson to carry on Carl Sagan’s passion of spreading scientific literacy to the masses.
NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft has obtained its first observations of the extended upper atmosphere surrounding Mars.
The Imaging Ultraviolet Spectrograph (IUVS) instrument obtained these false-color images eight hours after the successful completion of Mars orbit insertion by the spacecraft at 10:24 p.m. EDT Sunday, Sept. 21, after a 10-month journey.
The image shows the planet from an altitude of 36,500 km in three ultraviolet wavelength bands. Blue shows the ultraviolet light from the sun scattered from atomic hydrogen gas in an extended cloud that goes to thousands of kilometers above the planet’s surface. Green shows a different wavelength of ultraviolet light that is primarily sunlight reflected off of atomic oxygen, showing the smaller oxygen cloud. Red shows ultraviolet sunlight reflected from the planet’s surface; the bright spot in the lower right is light reflected either from polar ice or clouds.
The oxygen gas is held close to the planet by Mars’ gravity, while lighter hydrogen gas is present to higher altitudes and extends past the edges of the image. These gases derive from the breakdown of water and carbon dioxide in Mars’ atmosphere. Over the course of its one-Earth-year primary science mission, MAVEN observations like these will be used to determine the loss rate of hydrogen and oxygen from the Martian atmosphere. These observations will allow us to determine the amount of water that has escaped from the planet over time.
MAVEN is the first spacecraft dedicated to exploring the tenuous upper atmosphere of Mars.
Credit: Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics /University of Colorado and NASA