Sept. 5, 2008

NASA fellowships honor late CU astronomer Carl Sagan

The late Cornell professor Carl Sagan has been honored by NASA with the Carl Sagan Postdoctoral Fellowships in Exoplanet Exploration, created to inspire the next generation of explorers seeking to learn more about planets, and possibly life, around other stars.

Sagan was the David Duncan Professor of Astronomy and Space Sciences and former director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies at Cornell. A widely acclaimed astronomer, author and educator, Sagan was known around the world for his ability to inspire and captivate the public through science.

Up to four Sagan postdoctoral fellowships will be awarded in 2009, providing stipends of approximately $60,000 per year, for a period of up to three years. Fields of study can range from techniques for detecting the glow of a dim planet in the blinding glare of its host star to searching for the crucial ingredients of life in other planetary systems.

"We are investing in our nation's best and brightest in an emerging field that is tremendously inspiring to the public," said Jon Morse, Astrophysics Division director at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The Sagan fellowships will join NASA's Einstein Postdoctoral Fellowship in Physics of the Cosmos and the Hubble Postdoctoral Fellowship in Cosmic Origins. These fellowships represent a new theme-based approach, in which fellows will focus on such compelling scientific questions as "are there Earth-like planets orbiting other stars?"

"NASA's science-driven mission portfolio, its cultivation of young talent to pursue cutting-edge research and the decision to commit its genius to a question of transcendent cultural significance would have thrilled Carl," said Ann Druyan, Sagan's widow and collaborator, who continues to write and produce.

"That this knowledge will be pursued in his name, as he joins a triumvirate of the leading lights of 20th century astronomy, is a source of infinite pride to our family," said Druyan. "It signifies that Carl's passion to engage us all in the scientific experience, his daring curiosity and urgent concern for life on this planet, no longer eclipse his scientific achievements."

A call for Sagan fellowship proposals went out to the scientific community in early September; selections will be announced in February 2009.