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Eyes Turned Skyward
A star gazing, rocket riding, moon walking quote collection

Astronomy Cosmology

 


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Astronomy? Impossible to understand and madness to investigate.

— Sophocles, c. 420 BCE

Man must rise above the Earth—to the top of the atmosphere and beyond—for only thus will he fully understand the world in which he lives.

— Socrates

For every one, as I think, must see that astronomy compels the soul to look upwards and leads us from this world to another.

— Glaucon, the older brother of Plato, in Plato's The Republic, c. 380 BCE

The time will come when diligent research over long periods will bring to light things that now lie hidden. A single life time, even though entirely devoted to research, would not be enough for the investigation of so vast a subject. . . . And so this knowledge will be unfolded through long successive ages. There will come a time when our descendants will be amazed that we we did not know things that are so plain to them. . . . Many discoveries are reserved for ages still to come, when memory of us will have been effaced. Our universe is a sorry little affair unless it has in it something for every age to investigate . . . . Nature does not reveal her mysteries once and for all.

— Seneca, Natural Questions Book 7, c. first century.

Do there exist many worlds, or is there but a single world? This is one of the most noble and exalted questions in the study of Nature.

— Albertus Magnus, c. 13th Century.

The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir usthere is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation, as if a distant memory, or falling from a height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries.

— Carl Sagan, first paragraph of Cosmos, the book that accompanied the TV series of the same name. It  quickly became one of the best selling science books in the English language. 1980.

If there is anything that can bind the heavenly mind of man to this dreary exile of our earthly home and can reconcile us with our fate so that one can enjoy living—then it is verily the enjoyment of the mathematical sciences and astronomy.

— Johannes Kepler, in a letter to his son-in-law, Jakob Bartsch.

Galileo Galilei, a most humble servant of Your Serene Highness . . . . Now appear before You with a new contrivance of glasses [occhiale], drawn from the most recondite speculations of perspective, which render visible objects so close to the eye and represent them so distinctly that those that are distant, for example, nine miles appear as though they were only one mile distant. This is a thing of inestimable benefit for all transactions and undertakings, maritime or terrestrial, allowing us at sea to discover at a much greater distance than usual the hulls and sails of the enemy, so that for two hours or more we can detect him before he detects us.

 — Galileo Galilei, letter to the Doge (chief magistrate of Venice) explaining the practical uses of the telescope, giving the Senate sole rights to the new device, and asking for tenure at the university. He received tenure, although the accompanying doubling of his salary to 1,000 florins per year did not start until his current contract ended and excluded further pay increases. 31 August 1609.

s m a i s m r m i l m e p o e t a l e u m i b u n e n u g t t a u i r a s

— Galileo Galilei, anagram sent to several correspondents. Kepler assumed that Galileo's latest discovery had to do with Mars, and solved the puzzle as 'Salue umbistineum geminatum Martia proles' (Hail, twin companionship, children of Mars). However the anagram was in regard to Saturn (and what we now see as rings), 'Altissimum planetam tergeminum observavi,' (I have observed the most distant planet to have a triple form), 1610.

Mortal as I am, I know that I am born for a day, but when I follow the serried multitude of the stars in their circular course, my feet no longer touch the earth; I ascend to Zeus himself to feast me on ambrosia, the food of the gods.

— Ptolemy

The heaven is spherical in shape, and moves as a sphere; the earth too is sensibly spherical in shape, when taken as a whole; in position it lies in the middle of the heavens very much like its center; in size and distance it has the ratio of a point to the sphere of the fixed stars; and it has no motion from place to place.

— Ptolemy, Almagest, G. J. Toomer translation, c. 2nd century CE.

Apparent movement

The scorn which I had reason to fear on account of the novelty and unconventionality of my opinion almost induced me to abandon completely the work which I had undertaken. . . .  Astronomy is written for astronomers. To them my work too will seem, unless I am mistaken, to make some contribution.

— Nicolaus Copernicus, Dedication to His Holiness Pope Paul III, preface to De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres), 1543

So if the worth of the arts were measured by the matter with which they deal, this artwhich some call astronomy, others astrology, and many of the ancients the consummation of mathematicswould be by far the most outstanding. This art which is as it were the head of all the liberal arts and the one most worthy of a free man leans upon nearly all the other branches of mathe matics. Arithmetic, geometry, optics, geodesy, mechanics, and whatever others, all offer themselves in its service.

— Nicolaus Copernicus, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres), 1543.

In first place we must observe that the universe is spherical. This is either because that figure is the most perfect, as not being articulated, but whole and complete in itself; or because it is the most capacious and therefore best suited for that which is to contain and preserve all things.

— Nicolaus Copernicus, quoted in V. M. Tikhomirov, Stories About Maxima and Minima, 1990.

Astronomy is not only pleasant but also very useful to be known; it cannot be denied that this art unfolds the admirable wisdom of God.

— John Calvin, Commentaries on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis, 1554.

Since man, fragment of the universe, is governed by the same laws that preside over the heavens, it is by no means absurd to search there above for the themes of our lives, for those frigid sympathies that participate in our achievements as well as our blunderings.

— M. Yourcenar, Mémoires d'Hadrien, 1558.

There is in the universe neither center nor circumference.

— Giordano Bruno, On the Infinite Universe and Worlds, 1584.

God is infinite, so His universe must be too. Thus is the excellence of God magnified and the greatness of His kingdom made manifest; He is glorified not in one, but in countless suns; not in a single earth, a single world, but in a thousand thousand, I say in an infinity of worlds.

— Giordano Bruno, On the Infinite Universe and Worlds, 1584. Giordana was executed by the Inquisition.

The universe is then one, infinite, immobile. . . . It is not capable of comprehension and therefore is endless and limitless, and to that extent infintite and indeterminable, and consequently immoblie.

— Giordano Bruno, Cause, Principle, and Unity, 1588.

Now it is quite clear to me that there are no solid spheres in the heavens, and those that have been devised by the authors to save the appearances, exist only in the imagination, for the purpose of permitting the mind to conceive the motion which the heavenly bodies trace in their courses.

— Tycho Brahe, On the Most Recent Phenomena of the Aetherial World, 1588.

If the Lord Almighty had consulted me before embarking upon his creation, I should have recommended something simpler.

— Alfonso X of Castile, regards the complexity of Ptolemaic model of the universe, atttributed in preface of John Esten Keller's Alfonso X, El Sabio (1967).

We find, therefore, under this orderly arrangement, a wonderful symmetry in the universe, and a definite relation of harmony in the motion and magnitude of the orbs, of a kind that is not possible to obtain in any other way.

— Johannes Kepler, The Harmonies of the World, 1619.

In my studies of astronomy and philosophy I hold this opinion about the universe, that the Sun remains fixed in the centre of the circle of heavenly bodies, without changing its place; and the Earth, turning upon itself, moves round the Sun.

— Galileo Galilei, letter to Cristina di Lorena, Grandduchess of Tuscany, 1615.

I have been judged vehemently suspect of heresy, that is, of having held and believed that the sun in the centre of the universe and immoveable, and that the earth is not at the center of same, and that it does move. Wishing however, to remove from the minds of your Eminences and all faithful Christians this vehement suspicion reasonably conceived against me, I abjure with a sincere heart and unfeigned faith, I curse and detest the said errors and heresies, and generally all and every error, heresy, and sect contrary to the Holy Catholic Church.

— Galileo Galilei, the formal abjuration he was forced to recite and sign, church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, 22 June 1633.

The proposition that the sun is the centre of the world and does not move from place to place is absurd and false philosophically and formally heretical, because it is expressively contrary to Holy Scripture.
The proposition that the earth is not the centre of the world and immovable, but that it moves, and also with a diurnal motion, is equally absurd, philosophically false, and, theologically considered, at least erroneous in faith.
Ita pronunciamus nos Cardinalis infrascripti.

— F. Cardinalis de Asculo, G. Cardinalis Bentivolius, D. Cardinalis de Cremona, A. Cardinalis S. Honuphri, B. Cardinalis Gypsius., F. Cardinalis Verospius, M. Cardinalis Ginettus, Sentence of the Tribunal of the Supreme Inquisition against Galileo Galilei, 22 June 1633. In 1992 Pope John Paul II finally issued an apology, lifting the edict of Inquisition against Galileo. It was not the most complete or satisfying apology, noting: "Galileo sensed in his scientific research the presence of the Creator who, stirring in the depths of his spirit, stimulated him, anticipating and assisting his intuitions."

E pur si muove. (And yet it moves.)

— it is often stated that Galileo Galilei, rising from his knees after recanting before the inquisition in 1633, muttered "But it does move." However there is no evidence to source such a quote. The earliest biography of Galileo, written by his disciple Vincenzo Viviani, does not include the phrase. There is evidence the phrase occurs in an approximately contemporary painting showing Galileo in prison, but it does not appear in print till a century later, when in 1757 Gieseppe Baretti wrote The Italian Library. —The moment he was set at liberty, he looked up at the sky and down to ground, and, stamping his foot, in a contemplative mood, said Eppur si move; that is, —still it moves,— meaning the earth.— Paolo Galluzzi, the director of the Galileo Museum in Florence has dismissed the quote as a myth ('A Museum Display of Galileo Has a Saintly Feel,' the New York Times, 22 July 2010).  

I measured the skies, now the shadows I measure
Skybound was the mind, earthbound the body rests.

— Johannes Kepler, self-authored epitaph. Original Latin: "Mensus eram coelos, nunc terrae metior umbras. Mens coelestis erat, corporis umbra iacet." 1630.

The first question concerning the Celestial Bodies is whether there be a system, that is whether the world or universe compose together one globe, with a center, or whether the particular globes of earth and stars be scattered dispersedly, each on its own roots, without any system or common center.

— Francis Bacon, Novum Organum, 1620.

It is surrounded by a thin flat ring, inclined to the ecliptic, and nowhere touches the body of the planet.

— Christiaan Huygens, original Latin: "Annulo cingitur, tenui, plano, nusquam cohaerente, ad eclipticam inclinato," De Saturni luna observato nova, 1656.

This method of viewing the heavens seems to throw them into a new kind of light. They are now seen to resemble a luxuriant garden, which contains the greatest variety of productions, in different flourishing beds; and one advantage we may reap from it is, that we can, as it were, extend the range of our experience to an immense duration. For, to continue the simile I have borrowed from the vegetable kingdom, is it not almost the same thing, whether we live successively to witness the germination, blooming, foliage, fecundity, fading, withering, and corruption of a plant, or whether a vast number of specimens, selected from every stage through which the plant passes in the course of its existence, be brought at once to our view.

— William Herschel, 1 May 1789.

In the fabulous ages of ancient times the appellations of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn were given to the planets as being the names of their principal heroes and divinities. In the present more philosophical era, it would hardly be allowable to have recourse to the same method, and call on Juno, Pallas, Apollo, or Minerva for a name to out new heavenly body. . . . I cannot but wish to take this opportunity of expressing my sense of gratitude, by giving the name Georgium Sidus, to a star [Uranus], by which (with to respect to us) first began to shine under His auspicious reign.

— William Herschel, letter to Sir Joseph Banks, in J. Sime's William Herschel and His Work, 1900.

The barrier has begun to yield.

— John Herschel, regards parallax measurements by Bessel, Struve and Henderson, 1841.

No conception whatever can be had of the magnitude of the visible universe until the distances of the stars are known. None of the millions of human beings that have lived and dies knew the distance of even one stat from the earth until within the last seventy years. . . . The word millions has for long been used in telling the number of stars. But billions now appears to be more appropriate. Each one is a hot sun, and each may be attended in many cases by inhabited worlds.

— Edgar L. Larkin, 'Measuring the Distance of a Star,' Scientific American, 28 October 1905.

Edwin Hubble's dissertation cover 1920

The great spirals, with their enormous radial velocities and insensible proper motions, apparently lie outside our [Solar] system.

— Edwin Hubble, first page of his Ph.D. dissertation, Photographic Investigations of Faint Nebulae, 1917.

The outstanding feature, however, is the possibility that the velocity-distance relation may represent the de Sitter effect, and hence that numerical data may be introduced into discussions of the general curvature of space.

— Edwin Hubble, 'A Relation Between Distance and Radial Velocity Among Extra-Galactic Nebulae,' Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, volume 15, number 3, 1929.

Velocity-Distance Relation among Extra-Galactic Nebulae, PNAS, Volume 15, number 3

— Edwin Hubble, Velocity-Distance Relation among Extra-Galactic Nebulae diagram in 'A Relation Between Distance and Radial Velocity Among Extra-Galactic Nebulae,' Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, volume 15, number 3, 1929.

The history of astronomy is a history of receding horizons.

— Edwin P. Hubble, Realm of the Nebulae, 1936.

Lights All Askew In The Heavens: Men of Science More or Less Agog Over Results of Eclipse Observations.

— Special cable to the New York Times, headline reporting "Einstein theory triumphs" regards Arthur Eddington's eclipse experiment that offered the first proof of the general theory of relativity. Read the original newspaper article. 10 November 1919.

On the left-hand side of the [the] field equation we may add the fundamental tensor guv, multiplied by a universal constant, -λ, at present unknown, without destroying the general covariance.

— Albert Einstein, introducing λ, which became known as the cosmological constant. Cosmological Considerations on the General Theory of Relativity, 1917.

Einstein's solution of the equations implies the existence of a "world-matter" which fills the whole universe. . . . It is, however, also possible to satisfy the equations without this hypothetical world-matter.

— William de Sitter, showing that Einstein's General Theory also allowed another solution, a universe that was stable and empty. 'On Einstein's Theory of Gravitation, and Its Astronomical Consequences. Third Paper,' Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, volume 78, November 1917.

In order to find a solution combining the advantages of those of Einstein and de Sitter, we are led to consider an Einstein universe where the radius of space or of the universe is allowed to vary in an arbitrary way. . . . It remains to find the cause of the expansion of the universe.

— Abbé Georges Lema—tre, introducing the field equations that solved Einstein's General Theory without a cosmological constant by introducing an expanding universe. 'A Homogeneous Universe of Constant Mass and Increasing Radius Accounting for the Radial Velocity of Extra-Galactic Nebulae,' Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, volume 91, March 1931.

Since I have introduced this term I had always a bad conscience. . . . I cannot help to feel it strongly and I am unable to believe that such an ugly thing should be realized in nature.

— Albert Einstein, regards his objections to a cosmological constant, letter to Lema—tre, 1947.

An observer situated in a nebula and moving with the nebula will observe the same properties of the universe as any other similarly situated observer at any time.

— Sir Hermann Bondi, 'Review of Cosmology', Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Volume 108, 1948.

From our home on the Earth, we look out into the distances are strive to imagine the sort of world into which we are born. . . . But with increasing distance our knowledge fades, and fades rapidly, until at the last dim horizon we search among ghostly errors of observations for landmarks that are scarcely more substantial. The search will continue. The urge is older than history. It is not satisfied and it will not be suppressed.

— Edwin Hubble, last paragraph of his last published scientific paper, 'The Law of Red Shifts (George Darwin Lecture),' Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, volume 113, 1953. He died of a cerebral thrombosis in September 1953.

On scientific grounds this big bang assumption is much less the palatable of the two. For it is an irrational process that cannot be described in scientific terms. . . . On philosophical grounds too I cannot see any good reason for preferring the big bang idea. Indeed it seems to me in the philosophical sense to be a distinctly unsatisfactory notion, since it puts the basic assumption out of sight where it can never be challenged by a direct appeal to observation.

— Fred Hoyle, penultimate lecture of a series of science broadcasts on the BBC in the Spring of 1949, and also contained in his 1950 book The Nature of the Universe. So the term Big Bang was popularized by someone who found it very troubling and preferred the Steady State thesis.

When all thermonuclear sources of energy are exhausted a sufficiently heavy star will collapse. Unless fission due to rotation, the radiation of mass, or the blowing off of mass by radiation, reduce the star's mass to the order of that of the sun, this contraction will continue indefinitely.

— J. Robert Oppenheimer and Hartland Snyder, abstract to On Continued Gravitation Contraction, Physical Review, volume 56. First modern description of a black hole, complete with field equations, 1 September 1939

Observing quasars is like observing the exhaust fumes of a car from a great distance and then trying to figure out what is going on under the hood.

— Carole Mundell, Scientific American magazine, June 1998.

Bright points in the sky or a blow on the head will equally cause one to see stars.

— Percival Lowell, Mars, 1895.

The boundary condition of the universe is that is has no boundary.

— Stephen W. Hawking, A Brief History of Time, 1988.

There are no black holes - in the sense of regimes from which light can't escape to infinity. There are however apparent horizons which persist for a period of time.

— Stephen Hawking, Information Preservation and Weather Forecasting for Black Holes, 22 January 2014. An article in Nature gives background on his "no black holes" claim.

There are reasons, increasing in number and quality, to believe that the masses of ordinary galaxies may have been underestimated by a factor of 10 or more.

— Jeremiah Ostriker, James Peebles and Amos Yahil, first words of a highly influential paper about dark matter. 'The Size and Mass of Galaxies, and the Mass of the Universe,' Astrophysics, 193, L1-4, 1974.

Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light; 
I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.

— Sarah Williams, last lines of the fourth paragraph of the poem The Old Astronomer to His Pupil. Exact date unknown, Williams died in 1868.

The moon and the stars no longer come to the farm. The farmer has exchanged his birthright in them for the wattage of his all-night sun. His children will never know the blessed dark of night.

— Leslie Peltier in his autobiography, Starlight Nights: The Adventures of a Star-Gazer, 1965.

This dead of midnight is the noon of thought,
And Wisdom mounts her zenith with the stars.

— Mrs. Barbauld, A Summer's Evening Meditation.

The anecdotes of modern astronomy affect me in the same way as do those faint revelations of the Real which are vouchsafed to men from time to time, or rather from eternity to eternity. When I remember the history of that faint light in our firmament which we call Venus, which ancient men regarded, and which most modern men still regard, as a bright spark attached to a hollow sphere revolving about our earth, but which we have discovered to be another world, in itself,—how Copernicus, reasoning long and patiently about the matter, predicted confidently concerning it, before yet the telescope had been invented, . . .  and that within a century after his death the telescope was invented, and that prediction verified, by Galileo,—I am not without hope that we may, even here and now, obtain some accurate information concerning that OTHER WORLD which the instinct of mankind has so long predicted.

— Henry David Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, 1893.

Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing wonder and awe—the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.

— Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, 1781.'

Cosmology is serious business and in our hearts we are nothing if not cosmologists, hanging in a cold cage sifting the ruthless jewels of existence.

— Dennis Overbye, Lonely Hearts of the Cosmos, 1991.

When you look at the stars and the galaxy, you feel you are not just from any particular piece of land, but from the solar system.

— Laurel Clark

Those who study the stars have God for a teacher.

— Tycho Brahe

No one regards what is before his feet; we all gaze at the stars.

— Quintus Ennius

For my confirmation, I didn't get a watch and my first pair of long pants, like most Lutheran boys. I got a telescope. My mother thought it would make the best gift.

— Wernher von Braun, quoted in 'Space: Reach for the Stars', Time magazine, 17 February 1958.

Astronomy is one of the sublimest fields of human investigation. The mind that grasps its facts and principles receives something of the enlargement and grandeur belonging to the science itself. It is a quickener of devotion.

— Horace Mann

Astronomy, as nothing else can do, teaches men humility.

— Arthur C. Clarke, The Challenge of the Spaceship, 1959.

Billions and billions.

— erroneously attributed to astronomer Carl Sagan. In his 1997 book Billions & Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium Sagan wrote:

I never said it. Honest. Oh, I said there are maybe 100 billion galaxies and 10 billion trillion stars. It's hard to talk about the Cosmos without using big numbers. I said "billion" many times on the Cosmos television series, which was seen by a great many people. But I never said "billions and billions." For one thing, it's too imprecise. How many billions are "billions and billions"? A few billion? Twenty billion. A hundred billion? "Billions and billions" is pretty vague. When we reconfigured and updated the series, I checked—and sure enough, I never said it.

Carl Sagen with Johnny Carson

Johnny Carson (an amateur astronomer and on whose Tonight Show Sagan appeared almost 30 times) did however say it when he was imitating Sagan. "He'd dress up in a corduroy jacket, a turtleneck sweater, and something like a mop for a wig. . . . saying "billions and billions."" The phrase caught on. Carl explained, "I pronounced 'billions' with a fairly plosive 'b,' which some people took for an idiosyncratic accent of speech deficiency." He felt the alternative, constantly saying that's billions with a b, was too cumbersome.

Astronomy taught us our insignificance in Nature.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, published 1904.

Astronomy is useful because it raises us above ourselves; it is useful because it is grand; …. It shows us how small is man's body, how great his mind, since his intelligence can embrace the whole of this dazzling immensity, where his body is only an obscure point, and enjoy its silent harmony.

— Henri Poincaré, The Value of Science, George Halsted translation, 1907.

Studying the behavior of large whales has been likened to astronomy. The observer glimpses his subjects, often at long range; he cannot do experiments, and he must continually try to infer from data that are usually inadequate.

— Hal Whitehead, Scientific American magazine, March 1985.

Starlight is falling on every square mile of the earth's surface, and the best we can do at present is to gather up and concentrate the rays that strike at area 100 inches in diameter.

— George Ellery Hale, Harpers magazine, April 1928.

In the country the darkness of night is friendly and familiar, but in a city, with its blaze of lights, it is unnatural, hostile and menacing. It is like a monstrous vulture that hovers, biding its time.

— Somerset Maugham

Astronomers, like burglars and jazz musicians, operate best at night.

— Miles Kington, Welcome to Kington, 1989.

Our fantastic civilization has fallen out of touch with many aspects of nature, and with none more completely than with night.

— Henry Beston, The Outermost House, 1933.

The strongest affection and utmost zeal should, I think, promote the studies concerned with the most beautiful objects. This is the discipline that deals with the universe's divine revolutions, the stars' motions, sizes, distances, risings and settings . . . for what is more beautiful than heaven?

— Nicolaus Copernicus, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres), 1543.

The purpose of life is the investigation of the Sun, the Moon, and the heavens.

— Anaxagoras, 459 BCE

The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.

— Steven Weinberg, often cited online as the last words of his 1977 book The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe. In fact, there is one more paragraph in the epilogue. The Nobel Prize-winning physicist gives a more positive view when the whole quotation is considered:

But it there is no solace in the fruits of our research, there is at least some consolation in the research itself. Men and women are not content to comfort themselves with tales of gods and giants, or to confine their thoughts to the daily affairs of life; they also build telescopes and satellites and accelerators, and sit at their desks for endless hours working out the meaning of the data they gather. The effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things that lifts human life a little about the level of farce, and gives it some of the grace of tragedy.

— Steven Weinberg, last paragraph, The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe, 1977.

If we do discover a complete theory [of the Universe] it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason—for then we would know the mind of God.

— Stephen Hawking. 'Mind of God' was used in 1992 as book title by Paul Davies.

The universe is a big place, perhaps the biggest.

— Philip Jos— Farmer, Venus on the Half-Shell, 1974.

Astronomy is the science of the harmony of infinite expanse.

— Lord John Russell

My goal is simple. It is a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all. . . . We see the universe the way it is because if it were different, we would not be here to observe it.

— Stephen Hawking, Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, Washington Post newspaper, 15 April 1988.

If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.

— Carl Sagan, Cosmos TV series, 1980.

Theories crumble, but good observations never fade.

— Harlow Shapey, Director of the Harvard College Observatory.

 

Eyes Turned Skyward

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