“The cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.” These are the opening words of “The Shores of the Cosmic Ocean,” the first episode of the landmark PBS series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage airing in late September 1980. I can claim to know with certainty the exact moment when I first became interested in astronomy: late September 1980, and those dates are no coincidence. Cosmos was the event that sent me on an astronomical path.
I was hooked from the beginning. The wonderful descriptions that Dr. Carl Sagan gave, the imagery he used, his easy manner of speaking, and the amazing special effects (well, for 1980, they were amazing!) presented in the series brought science to life for an eight-year old kid in a farm town of two thousand people, as well as millions of others all over the country. I can still vividly remember scenes from the show, including the Cosmic Calendar and how small the portion of the calendar was that humans occupied, his demonstration of redshift and blueshift while riding a scooter, and his explanation of the definition of the word "google" using a long scroll of paper, decades before that name was identified with a certain popular web search engine. The music from the show still gives me goosebumps when I hear it.
My family used to stargaze from our backyard in the 1980s. Even though we lived in town, you could still see the Milky Way there, and I remember seeing objects like Saturn for the first time through our small telescope. I had wonderful teachers who helped me hone my interests along the way. We were also members of the Adler Planetarium and came here often to see every new show and participate in many different members events. I can still remember several of the planetarium shows. My favorite was – and still is - "Journey to the Center of the Milky Way Galaxy.”
“If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the Universe” (Dr. Carl Sagan, Cosmos, “The Lives of the Stars,” 1980). The Universe that Dr. Sagan opened up for me led me to work at the Adler Planetarium, and 19 years later, I have not lost one iota of my original interest. He inspired me to want to clearly communicate science to others, and it is what I try to do every single day. I hope the new series, Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey, is as inspirational to others as the original series was to me.
Can't wait for the COSMOS season premier on March 9? Go to www.cosmosrsvp.com right now for a chance to attend the exclusive Chicago screening and live global Q&A of COSMOS on Tuesday, March 4 at the Adler Planetarium. Space is limited, so hopeful attendees should RSVP today.
Written by Michelle Nichols, astronomer at the Adler Planetarium.