It is with great sadness that we learned of the passing of Philip Morrison at his home this past Friday, April 22nd.
Professor Morrison was physicist and group leader at the Manhattan Project at the University of Chicago and Los Alamos where he took part in the first desert test of the atomic bomb after which he wrote and spoke out against the arms race and its potential to carry us all into a nuclear war.
Dr. Morrison has a held a special interest in interstellar communications ever since his early 1959 paper (with Giuseppe Cocconi) that first publicly proposed a microwave search. It was this paper that created the healthy worldwide SETI community that is involved in multiple searches for extraterrestrial intelligent civilizations.
Dr. Morrison - or ‘Phil’ to those who knew him - was a true inspiration to his many friends, colleges and students. To many of us, he was one of the most widely read, and smartest people we’ve ever met. Phil was not only a physicist, he was a philosopher, a historian, a biologist and one of the best teachers around. Together with Phylis, his life-long wife and partner, Phil wrote a column for Scientific American about “interesting things.” They have both scripted many films and television series, including the well known “Powers of Ten” animated film and the 6 part PBS series “The Ring of Truth”. Phylis passed away in 2002.
Phil and Phylis will be deeply missed by the Berkeley SETI team.
and my My 40 Years of SETI
Let me speak of my friend Carl Sagan, outstanding public figure among all astronomers, who died in December 1996 at the untimely age of 62. It was he who arranged–and it took some doing–that the distant camera of a Voyager space probe would point back toward the sun from beyond Neptune to take a picture of Earth. Out there you do not get a blue disc with a smear of details; you see only the color, a pale blue glowing dot. The whole Earth is seen as a planet among planets, just as a sun from afar is only a star among stars. Distance alone makes planet and sun dwindle.
and my favorite quote for people like him
We succeeded in taking that picture [from deep space], and, if you look at it, you see a dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, eveIry hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.
The earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.
Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us. It’s been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.
Excerpted from a commencement address delivered May 11, 1996. Dr. Sagan’s book Pale Blue Dot expands on these ideas.
Image from Voyager 1, 1990.