Published on

An Attempt to Understand Celestial Bodies

  • Name
    Humam Fauzi
Book Details
AuthorCarl Sagan
SubjectPopular Science
SourceAmazon Kindle

The Shores of Cosmic Ocean

It begins with the immense scale of the universe. It is so immense that ordinary human seems puny and insignificant. However, Cosmos offer different view about human existence. The main theme of Cosmos are discoveries and explorations. Both are embedded in human nature since those are required for survival.

There are many paragraph that constructed to makes us immersive such as when Cosmos try to describe how inviting outer space is. Most of this consisted of small sentence such as "The water seems inviting", "The ocean calls", and "We long to return".

Cosmos find a good balance between numbers in science and how relevant the number to ordinary person. It easy to get lost when some sciece fact throws some numbers but we don't have a good comparison of how impactful it is. Cosmos did a good job when describing scientific concept such as speed of light which common people rarely use in their daily life. It starts basic concept such as one second and a distance. When there is a number that hard to relates to such as 300.000 kilometers, Cosmos immediately throws a relatable example such as the number equal to seven times around the Earth.

Cosmos uses subtle and well-composed narrative to make reader engaged in the sea of facts and numbers. There are four paragraph that describe how many galaxies they are and how many stars within it. It conclude with the high probablities that life exists outside our earth. "Some are solitary wanderers; most inhabit communal clusters, huddling together, drifting endlessly in the great cosmic dark" is how Cosmos describe a galaxy is which is does not helpful from science perspective but immersive for reader to read. This kind of passage is often occur to emphasize an object or event which, in my opinion, much more effective compared to throw some numbers and reference.

This chapter try to zoom out as far as possible and try to find Earth in the, well you guessed it, Cosmic Ocean. Beginning in galaxy supercluster, to local cluster, to our galaxy itself and where our sun located in its spiral arm. The nice things about this part is everytime we zoom in to closer group, Cosmos try to describe what also inside this particular group. For example, when describing solar system, it begins to describe our gas giants and its moons; how it looked and textured.

After showing how insignificant we are in the cosmic scale, Cosmos introduce us to Eratosthenes, a egyptian-greek scientist. It tells us, step-by-step about how Eratosthenes, not only discover that earth is curved, but also estimates the circumeference of the earth using sticks, shadows, and curiosity.

The theme of curiosities continues as Cosmos describe how many civilization attempt to discover new land and some adventurer want to circumnavigate the Earth. It also describe that mapping entire Earth does takes time from the Eratosthenes time to the Columbus arrival in America and modern sea navigation from European empires. Cosmos compare this exploration attempt to the outer space explorations; telling us that we live roughly live in the same state as Eratosthenes when realizing the earth is round and explorable but on a different scale.

After curiosities, Cosmos discuss the science tradition of the ancient times. How library of Alexandria is the first science institution in the world that collect many manuscript from other land to preserve it. It also introduce us to other character briefly that despite living in the ancient time but has remarkable impact such as Euclid, Heron of Alexandria, and Archimedes.

This chapter embodies what Cosmos discuss throughout its chapters; wonder of outer space, curiosity, science and its institutions.

One Voice in Cosmic Fugue

It discuss how life started on earth, how did we get here, describe the building blocks of life and how extraterretial might look like. It starts discussing how life can be exist in the earth, describing how each of organic matter consists of chemical and the chemical itself consisted of atoms. Cosmos asks existensial questions about how come in the past earth was a desolate place and now brimming with so many lifes and how first living things arise which can be categorized as our search about who we are.

Many argues that we are lucky that earth is well suited for our being and other flora and fauna exists here. In contrast, Cosmos argues that we, as a one of the species in the earth, are finely tuned to live in earth. Those earlier form of human that were not well adapted died. It looks like Cosmos want to introduce us to idea of evolution. Cosmos argues, in this chapter, that all life connected in someway, it may ancestoral connection, or just consisted of same chemicals.

Cosmos continues with the stories of Japan child emperor that lost a battle against an usurper. Although losing it claims to the imperial throne, the child emperor become renowed figure in a beach where the battle occurs. In this beach, many fisherman found crabs that has facial feature and consider it as the reincarnation of soldiers that died alongside the child emperor. Cosmos argues that this is caused by selective, artifical evolution that fishermans do without their knowing. By refusing to catch a crab that has facial feature, they let the crab with facial feature have greater survavibility chance. Survavibility chance, most of the times, equal to more offspring that has same trait as their parents which is in this case is the facial feature. Hence the crab with facial feature would dominate crab population in a period of time.

What fisherman in Japan do is what our ancestor do in thousand of years when doing farming and domesticating animals in the first time, Comsos argues. We preferentially breed the one who has desirable trait such as more meat in cattle or higher yield in rice variant. The essence of artifical selection is that many of our physical and behavioral trait are inherited.

Nature also do its selection, keeping lifeforms that suitable with its environment. Although it is not as fast as human artificial selection, nature does the selection through its environment which can be supported by fossil evidence. Nature always does this since the dawn of life on earth thus enabling the rich, diverse variant of flora and fauna exists. This, Cosmos argues, is the irrefutable proof that evolution is a fact not a theory.

From now, Cosmos explain about evolution. How it begins by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace writing The Origin of Species. Next, Cosmos discuss how there are people who still against the idea of natural selection and evolution. Cosmos discuss creatonism which state that there are higher power that design us all with no hostility at all. It recognise that creatonism may arise from our ancestor looked the life on earth that so complex yet fulfill it roles really well thus it should have higher power that assemble such forms. A watch implies the existence of watchmaker.

Return to the idea of natural selection, fossil record implies a trial and error, an inability to anticipate the future, features inconsitent with an efficient Great Designer. It continues with Carl Sagan experience working with H. J. Muller, a geneticist who discover crab stories before. It has to do something with some flies cross breeding.

Cosmos now move to DNA, the building blocks and universal language for all lifeforms on earth. It describe how DNA looks like and how a change in it could lead to small evolution one at a time. Next it describe how cell banded together in common good to create greater lifeforms. And it discovers sex. Sex itself are DNA copy machine with enermous mutation from particapants compared to random mutation caused by radiation or something else. Not only it create more of the participant species, sex also make trait inheritence faster thus the one who does not engage in sex either died out because lack of participant or does not mutate fast enough to accomodate nature changes.

The interesting part about this chapter is Cosmos also discuss the interaction between evolution and nature. Charles Darwin argues that nature drive the course of evolution; telling it what kind of trait that will survive. On the other hand, evolution also may drive the course of nature. When plant start to dominate as the life forms on earth, oxygen become the main consistuent of earth atmosphere. Those who cannot cope with rising level of oxygen concentration would died out.

Next, it discuss the Cambrian explosion which suggest that large lifeforms with specialized organs are hard to evolve, harder even than the origin of life. Cambrian explosion fill the sea with animals such trilobites. After Cambrian explosion, the life would evolve at greater speed. Plants begins to invade land and animals start colonizing land soon after, million years. Thus the first of familiar animal appear, the first mammals, the first fish, the first bird, and many more.

Cosmos now move to evolution of human itself and discuss mutual existence of human as an animal and plants. Now move to the how cell inside human regulates itself and consuming bigger things that human put in their organs such as air and food. It discuss enzyms, the chemical control of human. And deeper into the cell and arrive again at DNA.

This chapter end with Carl Sagan laboratory experiment in Cornell University working in prebiological chemistry. He recreate the experiment by Stanley Miller and Harold Urey about chemical constituent of primordial earth. Cosmos explain that the experiment does create organic chemical that can be found in all organism on earth but not life itself. No experiment able to create life out of chemical ingredients. It end with his speculation of life forms in the Jupiter by considering Jupyter properties.

Carl Sagan also express his disapproval to image of science fiction writer gives to extra terrestrial lifeforms. He argues that the lifeforms is too similar to ours even with assumption that we have same chemical consistuents. He understand that his knowledge about lifeforms chained to earthly lifeforms.

The Harmony of the World

Carl Sagan begin this chapter by describing the uncertainty that happen in this world and offer how it is a positive thing. This seems uncertain world does have patterns such as celestial bodies movement, season, and day night cycle. Cosmos also talks about how different culture see same night sky. Each of them has their own interpretation. How each of these culture spend some effort to understand astronomy albeit they separated by thousand of miles.

Cosmos argues that each culture try to understand this regularity when they invent agriculture. Crops need an optimal cycle of planting and harvest to have better yield. Not only giving a food to survive for community, astronomy, Carl Sagan argues, also encouraged observation, recording, and mathematics since all of three helps our ancestor fill their grain.

Cosmos continues by discussing how our ancestor try to understand the movement of celestial bodies turn to astrology that decide someone behavior based on their birth sign. Carl Sagan do understand how astrology come to life and does not belittle it. After all it is the offspring of our ancestor try to survive by planting some trees. But Carl Sagan call out the invalidity of astrology by presenting twin, who literally born in split minute, that has totally different fate.

Astrology developed into a strange combination of observations, mathematics and careful record-keeping with fuzzy thinking and pious fraud.

Next Cosmos discuss how these night sky observation affect our modern life. It begins with discussion of nation flags which has stars. Carl Sagan discuss how many nations want to embed the power and credibility of heavens. Cosmos continues explaining how in the beginning, astrology and astronomy, seen as one. Ptolemy try to use his observation to predict many things. But today, astronomy is the field of science and astrology is a pseudoscience.

Cosmos begin discuss planetary motion and its development in the human culture. In Ptolemy time, he assumed that earth was the center of the universe which make sense since everything revolves around the earth, at least in Ptolemy eyes. Hence, Ptolemy create new model that predict planet movement and it works reasonably well. In 1543, Copernicus argues that the sun, not the earth, is the center of our universe and earth is just orbitting the sun. But this argument makes church mad thus banned to be published. Many of Copernicus friends think that Copernicus never really think that the sun is the center of the universe, he just did it to make computation easier.

After Ptolemy, Cosmos decide to move spotlight to another astronomer giant, Johannes Kepler. With mix of catholic school and independent mind, Kepler awed by the geometric beauty.

Geometry existed before the Creation. It is co-eternal with the mind of God ... Geo metry provided God with a model for the Creation ... Geometry is God Himself

Johannes Kepler

Stories continues as Kepler drop his clergy studies and enter an university where he have many discussion with his peer. He discover Copernican hypothesis. He then studies it while teaching mathematics in Graz, Austria. In the middle of his lecture, Kepler have an epiphany about planet motion. At first, Kepler thinks that the six known plantes are connected to five platonic solids from ancient greek. He face difficulty try to connecting the platonic solids and planets. However, the pursuit of elegance and grandeur of the teory, he keep moving on. He decide need to meet with someone who has complete record of planetary motion at that time, Tycho Brahe.

When Kepler try to deepen his understandings, thirty year war broke out between catholics and protestants, force him to exile because his belief. Moreoever, when meeting Tycho Brahe, it does not as well as Kepler expected. Tycho Brahe, in Keper mind, does not use his fortune and opportunity well. But as much as Keper disagree with Tycho Brahe behavior, he still posses complete motion of planet. After Tycho Brahe dies, Kepler took his position as imperial mathematician in court and start assorting his record. By looking at the data, Kepler realize that his platonic connection between planet are completely wrong. Many paragraphs explain Kepler attempt to explain planetary motion from rereading ancient greek observation to become pen pal with Galileo who posses a telescope. After this many attempt, he try using ellipse as a planet orbit and sun as its center which fit the data Tycho Brahe collects thus creating the first Kepler law of planet motion. A planet moves in an ellipse with the sun at one focus. Another Kepler observation is that when the planet are closer to the sun, it has greater speed compared when its further from the sun. The constant between them are the area they swept. The last law of Kepler which state that the squares of periods of planets are proportional to the cubes of their average distance from the sun. Not only Kepler find the three fundamental of celestial bodies mechanics, he also hint the existence of gravity.

Kepler and his pursuit of elegance and grandeur lead him to the place he does not expect and found answer in the place that not regarded as elegant before he realize it. He thinks that all the laws he found is the harmony of the world.

After Kepler, Cosmos move to another giant in astronomy, Isaac Newton. He begin to studying in Cambridge at age of 23. When a plague strikes, Newton forced to return to his hometown and self study. In his home, he found differential and integral calculus. Not only he created a branch of mathematics, he also defines mechanics as a physics studies. Like Kepler, Newton observation leads him to calculate the motion of moon relative to earth. In his studies, Newton conclude that makes moon orbit the earth was gravity and it applies to other planet moons. Moreover, he discovers the inverse square law. If the object are moved twice as far away, the gravity only one quarter strong. By this law, Newton able to verify, mathematically, that Kepler was right. This is when the observation match theory in physics. Newton, with his level of intellect, does not magically invulnerable to pseudoscience. Newton, among other things, believe in alchemy and study it like he study physics.

Cosmos close this chapter by emphasizing the importance of curiosity, perseverance, and pursuit of knowledge that demonstrated by Kepler and Newton. Two of them facing many challenges yet prove that our universe governs by universal law. There is resonance between the way we think and the way the world works.

Heaven and Hell

Earth, with its beauty and comfort, seems like a place where nothing happens and everything abide some sort of cycle. However, when we look earth history especially in long period of time such as million years. Many big things happen, ranging from bloom of new lifes to meteor hit. We as a human only live to see small part of earth history, thus the assumption.

One of the recent big nature event is the meteor in Central Siberia 30 June of 1908. Russian empire does not investigate it; dismissing it as a minor event happen in Russia. After all Russia is a big place. After revolutions, Russia start collecting accounts about the event which later known as Tunguska Event. The book quote the recorded occurences.

There are many ideas about what hit Tunguska that day. Antimatter hit matter in earth, alien spaceship, and mini blackhole are one of the attempt to explain what happen. What later accepted as explanation for the event was a meteor hit.

Cosmos continue with explanations about how comet become a meteor and what would happen to ground zero. To give reader the picture how strong a meteor impact is, Cosmos compare with nuclear explosion without radioactive fallout--assuming that the meteor itself does not contain radioactive material. It continues to alert us the danger of mistaking a comet explosion with nuclear explosion since the former are natural disaster whereas the later an action with grave political consequences.

Comet consists of several common material such as water and methane, Cosmos begin to describe comet. Meteor shower is common occurence in human civilization. Most of them are harmless event. Scientist conclude that Tunguska event caused by chunk of Comet Encke.

After explaining comet and meteor shower, Cosmos start describing the relation between coment and human civilization. Most of them consider comet as a bad omen. Our guy Ptolemy thought that comets bring war, hot weather, and uncomfortable conditions. One of the most famous comet in human civilization is comet Halley. Ancient Chinese, Greek, Middle ages have record of comet halley and their interpretation. Comet also interest Newton, Kepler, and Brahe. Three of them conclude that comet have some pattern but act differently compared to planet. Later, Edmund Halley in 1707 calculate the comet projection and predict it will appear again in 1758 thus become the first person who succesfully calculating comet projection.

Cosmos explain why comets have more eliptical orbit that planet. If the planes had very elliptical orbits, so that their path intersected, sooner or later where would be collision. In early days of solar system, many planet have very elliptical orbit and they crashed with each other, leaving planet with near-circle orbit to survive. With very elliptical orbit, comet bound to hit planet sooner or later. A small comet like in Tunguska event may happen once in a thousand years whereare comet such Halley which estimated has diamter of twenty kilometers only hit every billion years.

Comet hit every planet in solar system. Bigger planet have higher chance of comet hit. Solid planet like Venus, Mercury, Earth, and Mars would leave a crater when get hit. Less dense atmosphere also contribute how big the crater is. Moon do not have atmosphere and its surface does not resemblance of flat surface at all. After the solid planets, comet also hit gas giant. They have greater diameter that the solids thus experience more comet hit. But unlike the solids, gas giant does not leave any mark when get hit by comment like the solids.

After discussing comet, Cosmos start discuss another planet, Venus. Cosmos lays that many hypothesis that why Venus the way it is today. Many of the are wrong but that is the point of science

Science is generated by and devoted to free inquiry: the idea that any hypothesis, no matter how strage, deserves to be considered on its merits. The suppression of uncomfortable ideas may be common in religion and politics, but it is not the path to knowledge; it has no place int the endeavor of science. We do not know in advance who will discover fundamental insights.

Venus has same size as earth so many scientist conclude that it has almost same properties as earth. First different argument about Venus comes from a prism light. A prism can take a light and separate it by different spectrum. Cosmos then explain what is electromagnetic spectrum and its members such as visible lights, X-Rays, and ultraviolet. Later in 1800s, scientist know that those light spectrum can be used to infer chemical composition of distant object. This technique used to test whether Venus atmosphere contain vapor water (cloud in earth). Apparently, Venus does not have water vapor in its atmosphere but contain a lot of carbon dioxide. Cosmos introduce us to another tools in astronomy called radio telescope which can measure temperature of distant object using black body radiation. Venus have high temperature thus it is a barren planet. Cosmos conclude that scientist may wrong but newer data and sensor makes its accuracy get better.

Cosmos move how nature, in general, can be a violent event; bridging from its Venus introduction as a inhospitable planet. It warns that what happen in Venus may happen in earth if we keep pumping carbon monoxide to atmosphere. But we can keep cherised what happen in earth by preserving it.

Cosmos can jump to many aspects in one chapter. The bridging of these aspects can take a whole paragraph. It makes reader hard to grasp what Cosmos want to tell us in each chapter. On the other hand, narratively speaking, Cosmos able to create a compelling story about science facts, its people, history and culture about it. Moreover, it can be consumed as pleasure reading instead of hard, packed fact like other science book. Cosmos represent a popular science content really well; Giving readers information that could sparks awe and curiosity without false information and still giving a full context.