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The spirit of Carl Sagan Day

It was 77 years ago today that astronomer Carl Sagan was born, and 15 years ago that he passed away after a long struggle with bone marrow disease. For a while, Sagan's rich legacy was commemorated on the date of his death, but in recent years, his fans have wisely focused on his birthdate instead. In celebration of his life, Saganites are screening episodes of his well-known TV documentary series, "Cosmos" ... planning parties with cosmic speakers ... and making apple pies from scratch. (First step: Invent the universe).

If anything, the astronomer's legacy has grown in recent years, as a new generation gets in touch with his easy way of communicating scientific perspectives to the public as well as his deep spirituality. Spirituality? That may come as a surprise to some, who view Sagan as a sharp-edged critic of religion in a "Demon-Haunted World." But his meditation on our "Pale Blue Dot" could well rank as one of the most spiritual essays of the 20th century. To find out more of that side of Sagan's legacy, check out "The Varieties of Scientific Experience," a book based on a series of talks he gave in 1985.

There'll be more for Saganites to cheer in the years ahead: A new version of "Cosmos" is being readied for prime-time TV in 2013, with astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson as host. Back in August, Tyson told me that he would bring his own style to the new show while preserving the Sagan spirit. "What people remember the most about 'Cosmos,' and what it did best, and what I don't think has been duplicated, is the effort to convey the meaning of science to a citizen of planet Earth," Tyson said. "'Cosmos' brought science to the public in a way that meant something to their relationship to each other, to the world and to the universe."

What does Sagan's legacy mean to you? Feel free to share your thoughts on this Sagan Day, in the comment space below.

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