So before 2010 actually ends, I promised a recap of the Carl Sagan Day in Florida that I attended in November. Sad that you missed it? Well, all of the talks are still archived on video! Since I actually missed many of the talks due to my other duties, I’m glad for that.
If you didn’t already know, Carl Sagan was a huge influence on my life, through the movie “Contact” which I saw in theatres just as I was rekindling an interest in astronomy, pointing me towards where I am today, and Demon-Haunted World, a book that really got me thinking about skepticism, or how to apply science to everyday life. So you can imagine my ridiculous thrill when I was asked to participate!
Overall, it was a very fun and busy event at which I met a lot of fabulous people that I unfortunately haven’t had the time to keep up with since then. (Hello!) I was a bit sad, however, by the realization that I never did get to meet Sagan himself and thank him for the tremendous impact he had on my life. However, I got to live a little bit through James Randi’s talk, the last one of the evening, about his friendship with Carl Sagan. I nearly fell out of my seat with laughter when he recalled a time when Carl was tired of filming in that “cardboard spaceship” all the time.
It was really good to laugh and smile and celebrate the legacy that Sagan left behind. In the morning, I ran my first ever, brand-spanking-new teacher workshop, in the spirit of science education which Sagan upheld. Of course, I had to follow the excellent acts of Jeff Bennett, who has written some of my favorite astronomy textbooks and children’s books, and Jeff Wagg, who did freaking cards tricks! I think my ultraviolet-sensitive beads made for a good time as well, as I showed how they can demonstrate a blinded experiment in a fun (and sometimes messy) way.
The main event featured a series of speakers and was also live-streamed to all the fine folks on the interwebz. I had the honor of giving the first talk (ack!) which was a wandering history of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, a project in which Sagan was deeply involved. Talk about nervous! Not only was it a pretty full lecture hall AND chat room, but James Randi was in the front row with the lovely Chip and Grace Denman who I had met through SkepticampDC. Eep! Afterwards, I lugged my suitcase full of astronomy demo goodies outside to do astronomy activities with the kids in attendance! We made comets, played with soda and Mentos, had a scale model solar system, and had facepainting. (I had no hand in that last one, it was all the skillful work of Gabrielle Stern! Unfortunately, I never got one myself, with all the running around and getting soda in my hair.)
Meanwhile, the main speakers were touching on more aspects of Sagan’s legacy, from skepticism to space flight, and again to alien life. In addition to the aforementioned Jeffs, Russell Romanella and the hilarious and insightful Hal Bidlack took the main stage. As it got dark, I was able to attend the last two talks, the first by my fellow “damn kid” (according to Bidlack), John Boswell, who composes the excellent Symphony of Science. We were even treated to a preview of “A Wave of Reason”, which has since been released. I am a huge fan of this project because it melds art and science, and it pulls forth such emotion, at least from me, and from many others as well. Who said skeptics and scientists are only about cold logic?! If this project isn’t in the spirit of Sagan’s work to share the wonders of the universe, I don’t know what is.
The final talk by Randi was a real treat. I can’t do it justice, other than fond remembrance of the poor, cardboard spaceship, so do watch that one if you get a chance. And THEN I got to finally meet The Amazing Randi himself, which made me all giddy-fan-girl. Just a little. For all his ferocity with fighting charlatans, he is a sweet man, and I hope to see him at TAM9! Sadly, I did not get a chance to get over to the JREF, as my time there was short. However, that night I learned that nerds + dry ice + beer = hilarity.
There are more pictures of me and (mostly) Buzznaut, one of our Dark Skies, Bright Kids mascots, on Flickr. The best part was when I showed this picture to the kids upon my return, and asked who they thought this man looked like. Expecting to hear “Santa Claus,” I was delighted when one fourth grader shouted, “He looks like Galileo!” Ladies and gentlemen of DSBK, I think we are doing a good job.
Please, someone with photoshopping skills, I want to see Jame’s Randi’s face on an illustration of Galileo with his telescope. Please, please, please!
With that, I encourage you to check the work of Carl Sagan and some of the many projects inspired by skepticism, science, and the sheer amazement at how cool our universe really is.
- The Carl Sagan Portal – Gateway to the work of Sagan
- Cosmos on Hulu – Seriously, go watch it
- Symphony of Science – with 7 inspiring, science-y songs (to date)
- The James Randi Educational Foundation – a group working hard to light a candle in the dark
- Dark Skies, Bright Kids – UVa Astronomy’s outreach project to Albemarle schools