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Carl Sagan on Being Children of the Cosmos

Cosmos (Random House, Inc.: 1985), pp. 198-9.

We are, in the most profound sense, children of the Cosmos. Think of the Sun’s heat on your upturned face on a cloudless summer’s day; think how dangerous it is to gaze at the Sun directly. From 150 million kilometers away, we recognize its power. What would we feel on its seething self-luminous surface, or immersed in its heat of nuclear fire. The sun warms us and feeds us and permits us to see. It fecundated the Earth. It is powerful beyond human experience. Birds greet the sunrise with an audible ecstasy. Even some one-celled organisms know to swim to the light. Our ancestors worshiped the Sun, and they were far from foolish. And yet the Sun is an ordinary, even a mediocre star. If we must worship a power greater than ourselves, does it not make sense to revere the Sun and stars? Hidden within every astronomical investigation, sometimes so deeply buried that the researcher himself is unaware of its presence, lies a kernel of awe.

The Galaxy is an unexplored continent filled with exotic beings of stellar dimensions. We have made a preliminary reconnaissance and have encountered some of the inhabitants. A few of them resemble beings we know. Others are bizarre beyond our most unconstrained fantasies. But we are at the very beginning of our exploration. Past voyages of discovery suggest that many of the most interesting inhabitants of the galactic continent remain as yet unknown and unanticipated. Not far outside the Galaxy there are almost certainly planets, orbiting stars in the Magellanic Clouds and in the globular clusters that surround the Milky Way. Such worlds would offer a breathtaking view of the Galaxy rising — an enormous spiral form comprising 400 billion stellar inhabitants, with collapsing gas clouds, condensing planetary systems, luminous supergiants, stable middle-aged stars, red giants, white dwarfs, planetary nebulae, novae, supernovae, neutron stars and black holes. It would be clear from such a world, as it is beginning to be clear from ours, how our matter, our form and much of our character is determined by the deep connection between life and the Cosmos.