The Poetic Clarity of That ‘Pale Blue Dot’

Through Photography, Science Has Given Humanity a Sense of Itself

When the Voyager 1 space probe was launched in 1977, it was equipped with a camera to chronicle its travels through the cosmos. One of the images that astronomer Carl Sagan hoped the probe would capture was that of Earth as the probe left the confines of our solar system, leaving our little planet, a “pale blue dot,” behind. Sagan thought this image of a barely visible Earth could help humanity more precisely understand our place in a vast and endless universe. “There is perhaps no better demonstration of …

When Numeracy Superseded Literacy—and Created the Modern World

The Renaissance's Embrace of Numbers Revolutionized Commerce, Science, and Art

In 1025, two learned monks, Radolph of Liége and Ragimbold of Cologne, exchanged several letters on mathematical topics they had encountered while reading a manuscript of the sixth-century Roman philosopher, …

Confessions of an Eclipse Chaser

For Four Decades I've Traveled the World, Tracking the 'Eye of God'

On August 21st this year, I will log my 26th solar eclipse and my 17th total solar eclipse. August 21st is when parts of the contiguous United States will fall …

Arrival’s Aliens Reflect How We Treat One Another

We React With Distrust and Paranoia, While They (Literally) Rise Above

In the recently released film Arrival, Earth is visited by an intelligent alien race, the heptapods, and the contact forever changes humanity’s sense of place in the cosmos. The movie …

Even in Deep Space, There Are Shades of Black

How a Planet Hunter Finds Faint Objects in a Sea of Darkness

In my line of work, I stare at shades of black.

My work starts on dark, black nights, when there is no moon or reflection from it. The telescopes I …

Watching Stars Explode From Mount Wilson

For 100 Years, Scientists Have Been Making Historic Discoveries About Our Universe, Right Here in Los Angeles

At the top of Mount Wilson on a dark, quiet night, the sprawling city lights of Los Angeles flicker in the valley below. Across the mountain, several telescope domes are …