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Meet the Host: Neil deGrasse Tyson

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Neil deGrasse Tyson (View larger version)

As host of the new TV series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, astrophysicist and author Neil deGrasse Tyson is following in the footsteps of the late Carl Sagan, the renowned scientist who starred in Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, the classic 1980 program that powerfully influenced many people’s view of science and the universe. Oddly, Tyson, who was in graduate school at the time, recalls that he only had time to catch a few episodes of the original Cosmos when it originally aired. All the same, Sagan still managed to exert a profound personal influence upon his future Cosmos successor, thanks to a meeting between the two that occurred when Tyson was a teenager.

It happened back in December 1975, when Tyson, a senior from at the Bronx High School of Science who dreamed of becoming an astrophysicist, applied to Cornell University, and his application was forwarded to Sagan, a faculty member. To Tyson’s surprise, he soon received a personal reply. “It was completely surreal,” recalls Tyson. “I’m just a 17-year-old kid, and here’s the most famous scientist in the world—he’d been on Johnny Carson—inviting me to come visit him at his lab.” When Tyson took a bus from New York City to the Cornell campus in Ithaca, N.Y., and walked to the building where Sagan worked, he was even more startled to find the scientist waiting outside for him. After giving Tyson a tour of the lab, autographing one of his books and discussing the Viking Mars lander with him, Sagan gave Tyson a ride back to the bus station. “It had started snowing,” Tyson recalls. “He wrote his home phone number on a piece of paper and gave it to me, saying, ‘If the bus can’t get through, call me, and we’ll put you up for the night.’”

Though Sagan didn’t succeed in convincing Tyson to attend Cornell—he eventually chose Harvard instead—the elder scientist’s altruism and willingness to reach out to others left a lasting mark. “Here we had a scientist who had a fireside chat manner, who was successful at communicating his passion and his knowledge of the universe to others,” Tyson explains. “I thought to myself, if I’m ever in a position to communicate with the public, that’s a fertile way to approach the challenge.”

After earning his doctorate in astrophysics at Columbia University, Tyson went on to become Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium and a research associate at the American Museum of Natural History, and has investigated areas ranging from star formation and exploding stars, to dwarf galaxies and the structure of the Milky Way. He served on two Presidential commissions to study the future of the aerospace industry and space exploration. But in emulation of his mentor Sagan, Tyson also has seized the opportunity to reach out to ordinary people, authoring or co-authoring 10 popular books on subjects such ranging from black holes to whether or not Pluto should be considered a planet. He hosts a weekly radio show, and has appeared on programs such as The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Tyson’s efforts to encourage public interest in the universe inspired the International Astronomical Union to name an asteroid, 13123 Tyson, in his honor. The scientist humbly points out that the name means that 13,122 such objects were named after other people before they got around to him, and that the club to which he belongs is “not that exclusive.” Even so, he admits, “I didn't think I would be singularly enthusiastic about it. But when it came in, I was like, ’whaaa-hoo!’”

Tyson, who co-signed a letter to Congress back in 2003 about the necessity of finding measures to protect the Earth against asteroid collisions, remains particularly strident about that subject. Despite warnings from him and other scientists, he says, government officials “haven’t gone anywhere. They’ve made small advances. They should have made big advances.” He cites the February 2013 explosion of an asteroid over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk as yet another wake-up call. “You don’t want to be the one who said, I told you so, but I told you so,” Tyson explains. “This is real, and it happens. Be thankful, that this only resulted in Band-Aids having to be administered because of broken glass. Had this asteroid been larger, or had it exploded deeper in the atmosphere, it would have leveled every single building in the city. And you would have had fatalities approaching the total population. Yes, it's the survival of the species. “

But even though he devotes much of his time to teaching the public about the universe, Tyson retains his own curiosity about the cosmos. He wants to see an explanation of the still-mysterious nature of dark matter and dark energy, and he Is eager to know how organic molecules actually led to self-replicating life forms. “That’s just an awesome transition,” he explains. “I would have loved to have witnessed that.” Another item on Tyson’s list is finding out whether there is life elsewhere in our solar system—such as Mars or Jupiter’s moon Europa--that has a different origin from life on Earth.

Tyson’s involvement in the revival of Cosmos stem from his appointment in 1997 to the board of the Planetary Society, an organization co-founded by Sagan in 1980 to encourage the public to become more involved in space exploration. Eventually, that led to conversations with people such as Sagan’s widow, writer Ann Druyan, producer Seth MacFarlane, who were interested in creating a sequel to the orginal Cosmos. When it came to finding a host, Tyson explains, “I offered myself, thinking that I could perform this role uniquely because of my teenage first encounter with Carl, and because of my growing ability as a science educator.”

Tyson says the new Cosmos will retain some of the most effective narrative devices from the original program, such as a cosmic calendar that presents the history of the universe as if it occurred in a single year, from January to December. “On that calendar, the cave men drawing on their walls occurred 15 seconds ago,” Tyson explains with a laugh. “It’s an extraordinarily powerful tool for showing the scale of time.”

Tyson adds: “What the original Cosmos did and what we do, is find stories about science, about scientists, and about culture, that represent the search for truth, no matter what the consequences.” But in its efforts to educate, Tyson says the new Cosmos may have a greater sense of urgency, at a time when issues such as climate change and the risk of asteroid collisions with Earth increasingly concern scientists. “Science literacy is the key to our future survival on Earth,” he explains. “So Cosmos will show why science matters.”
52 comments
Raul Leão
Raul Leão

Mr. Tyson,

I appreciate your work and TV show. Although not agreeing with your evolutionary vision of life, I respect you.

All the time I watch "Cosmos..." I praise God for His wonderful creation and how amazing, smart, interconnected it is. Even in caos, He has everything under control.

Thank you very much for showing us such truth.

Jeffrey S.
Jeffrey S.

Science and religion are not necessarily exclusive from each other. Maybe math and physics are the true language of G-d which we are just coming to understand. Maybe truly educated people such as Mr. Tyson are the ,"Profits" of our time, whether they believe or not. I am a huge fan of Mr. Tyson, I believe his motivation is to educate and make the world a better place. Regardless of his religious beliefs or not, (a very personal matter that is his business), I have to believe that some of his motivation comes from a spirituality within him.

"Thank-you" Mr. Tyson for educating all of us in the ways of the world and I hope not to offend when I say, "G-d bless you".


Respectfully, J

Md. Islam
Md. Islam

It is really impressive program. I am also a physics graduate student from Bangladesh. But main problem of Science student of my country is not have sufficient practical facilities on their course. And Science becomes boring for most of the student. But this type of program create opportunity to learn science in entertain manner. And hope it bring interest among student for science.

Rituparna Nath Paul
Rituparna Nath Paul

thanks to the National Geographic for such a knowledgeable show. Neil Tyson has performed too good !

Malik Ashtar
Malik Ashtar

This message is for COSMOS- Host Mr. NEIL

The following text is taken from Imam Ali (As) book written 1400 years ago..


Your cure is within you, yet you do not sense it!

Your sickness is from you, yet you do not see it!

You consider youself a small body;

Yet encapsulated within you is the entire universe!

Imam ‘Ali b. Abi Talib (‘alayhi wa ‘ala nabiyyina as-salam)

Malik Ashtar
Malik Ashtar

Your cure is within you, yet you do not sense it!

Your sickness is from you, yet you do not see it!

You consider youself a small body;

Yet encapsulated within you is the entire universe!

Imam ‘Ali b. Abi Talib (‘alayhi wa ‘ala nabiyyina as-salam)

Rob Lacplesis
Rob Lacplesis

Just wanted to say, huge thx for this programm! More people and more programmes like these and world would be better place to live!


Panos Constantine Kosmas
Panos Constantine Kosmas

If there was indeed a god, wouldn't he most likely be neutral if not benevolent, rather than the malicious and spiteful child your bible talks about? What's so godly and divine about punishment and torture in both physical and psychological manifestations? Those are the traits of a reptile, and we all have them inside us, hidden somewhere in the deepest archives of our brains. 


This is where your god comes from. Your god originates in a place you don't even know it exists within you. He is the manifestation of your biggest questions in life. Questions that you prefer to leave unanswered. Questions that should you attempt to answer, the world would be a better place, because your children would get an honest answer in the form of "I don't know", rather than a perpetuated inaccuracy.


You know nothing. I know nothing. I'm not afraid to learn. You are.

Lyle Jen
Lyle Jen

I record all of your programs as I enjoy watching  them. I don't believe in evolution but I know that things change over time. This is because I know that our ONE GOD created everything that exists 

and as a Christian I know that he will only let man know what he wants them learn.  The cosmos shows us just how GREAT GOD is.  The bible tells us that there was nothing created that GOD didn't

create, including  us.

howard stern
howard stern

this show...omg...some of the info and graphics are great ... but other stuff is soooo full of b.s. is killing me...obvious a gov't propaganda piece

Douglas Kubler
Douglas Kubler

I am disappointed with the show since it strays from the true Cosmos into politics.  In the last show I saw that Neil berated those who would deny a scientific fact.  That statement is not controversial.  But then he jumps right in the Global Warming theme as if that postulate were fact. The last ten minutes of the show were propaganda.

I see the Neil is on the board of the Planetary Society.  The pollution of science with politics is why the astronaut Harrison Schmitt resigned from the PS.

<<

---As a geologist, I love Earth observations. But, it is ridiculous to tie this objective to a "consensus" that humans are causing global warming in when human experience, geologic data and history, and current cooling can argue otherwise. "Consensus", as many have said, merely represents the absence of definitive science. You know as well as I, the "global warming scare" is being used as a political tool to increase government control over American lives, incomes and decision making. It has no place in the Society's activities.

>> 

The cognitive dissonance of the program is amusing but dismaying.  Scientific mavericks who fight against the prevailing consensus are honored but those who fight against the Global Warming “consensus” are belittled.  

I used to enjoy watching Neil for the pure science but now I have a background caution of “what are his motives?”.

Jaya durkai
Jaya durkai

 I am Unable to see today's episode. i am worring about that. :( please....... anybody who want to help me please mail me the episode to sciencefriend17@gmail.com the episode title is THE CLEAN ROOM. Because i am a great fan of cosmos pls anybody who sees this please help me.

Lisa Causey
Lisa Causey

My husband and I LOVE Cosmos,  and Dr. Tyson is an excellent host!  Thank you for this wonderful show, we will continue to watch, albeit a week behind due to needing to get to bed earlier than it airs.  So please keep up the re-runs for people like us!  :)


BTW, my husband and I are Christians who do NOT buy into that young universe/Earth thing.  And no matter a person's world view (be it Christian, Buddhist, Atheist, Hindu, Muslim, whatever) -- if that person's world view empowers them to live a compassionate, honest, ethical life, then I and my husband do not have a problem with that person.  As such, Dr. Tyson, you are an excellent and honorable example of that empowerment.  

Charles Catalano
Charles Catalano

I have eagerly waited for each episode of Cosmos. I know there are many people who have contributed to the series production and that team has my thanks and admiration for a truly wonderful experience. But I must single out Neil deGrasse Tyson. He is a gift. And he will draw others into the world of science. 

peter boyes
peter boyes

Attached is a question I would like to ask Tyson

Assume that our universe is alone in a totally empty space without any boundaries. Would it be possible for a new universe to start up within our existing one. Also would its outward expansion account for the dark energy that is pushing our galaxies apart?

It would seem simpler, and more logical, than having separate universes, each in its own 'bubble'.


Peter Boyes

michael s.
michael s.

I have the distinguished honor too see Neil deGrasss Tyson, this Thursday at Texas A&M University Corpus Christi.  Questions from NASA and students locally, to get some aspect "Do we have time to REPAIR our planet? Will reaching for the COSMOS give us answers replacing the damage we've done on earth?

Janie Gimnich
Janie Gimnich

I'm trying to watch the show.  I can't hear Mr Tyson for the background music. I thought background music was supposed to enhance the show, not cover up the voice. Anyone else have this problem?  Are there any solutions?

Duane Davis
Duane Davis

Why has the episode on evolution aired Mar 16th been removed?

Duane Davis
Duane Davis

Why has the episode aired Mar. 16th on evolution been removed?

Jeff Wilson
Jeff Wilson

Excellent program, however, why do you cater to the evolution deniers by claiming that people want to distance themselves from their primate relatives.  Many people today find the work and experiences of Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey to be tremendously endearing and precious. 

C W
C W

Highly irresponsible of Seth and Neil to claim "The theory of evolution is scientific fact," considering there is overwhelming debate in the scientific community concerning which aspects of evolution have been proven and which have not. Even barring religion.

Leon Green
Leon Green

Two observcation: 1) perhaps Bruno's dream was as God-given as Joseph's; 2) and that you did not side with the collision origin theory of our Moon. 

gabriel C.
gabriel C.

Cool. Niel is  really cool dude

Jeffrey Wynn
Jeffrey Wynn

Great first episode! Carl would be proud.

JAMES TUTTLE-WILDMAN
JAMES TUTTLE-WILDMAN

Wonderful first episode of an already iconic program.  The original COSMOS was in need of updating with the advances we have made.  I anxiously await the following episodes.  Thank You Dr. Tyson for hosting the new COSMOS.  I'm a big fan of Dr. Tyson as I was with Dr. Sagan.  The world is a better place because of both men.

Ton Eman
Ton Eman

Seth MacFarlane + Fox = A dummied down version of Cosmos complete with bad cartoons. I think Carl Sagan would be ashamed at this juvenile remake of his classic series.

Beverley Pigou-Dennis
Beverley Pigou-Dennis

Tonight's show was amazing! Dr. Tyson is a brilliant presenter, and the National Geographic team of graphics experts conveyed  a huge span os cosmic as well as human history, in a relatively short programme.

allen donnelly
allen donnelly

II am always facinated by  Neil deGrasse Tyson.  some day we hope he will comment on this alien  ?   also i hope he sends his childen to Rice.     Allen

Christine MacCalla
Christine MacCalla

I'm a great fan of Neil deGrasse Tyson. He  has a gift for telling the story so we all can understand and be a part of the adventure. I wouldn't miss this show!

Troy Boyle
Troy Boyle

Really interested in watching this. We cannot remain ignorant about science in a civilization that is increasingly reliant upon technology. 

Inry Cardenas
Inry Cardenas

Neil deGrasse Tyson`s point of view, mixture with some Sagan`s narrative...sounds interesting. COSMOS expectations...(?).   

Asad Shairani
Asad Shairani

Thanks to the internet, I was able to see the original Cosmos, albeit 33 years after it was made. I hope people and specially young people get to see the great work being done by the team, in my country Pakistan as well.  

Jeffrey S.
Jeffrey S.

@Panos Constantine Kosmas  Let me first say, I do not KNOW if there is a G-d or not. Nobody KNOWS. I personally chose to accept on FAITH, (that is why it is called such) and believe that there is something to it.

As well, NOBODY knows the nature of G-d. It is beyond our comprehension, just as much as the full scope of science is, which we are just starting to scratch the surface of coming to understand.

I personally choose to believe that we are more than evolved goo, more than worker ants with intelligence. I believe that a large part of what separates us from other living creatures is our, "spirituality" and yes I'm sure that each of us has a, "spirituality". Compassion, Sympathy, Empathy, Love, Hate, Charity all come from this place within us. Where does this spirituality come from?

The Universe is to perfect to be happenstance. The science of Physics and alike is too perfect to have been derived by just the "Natural order of things", unless one accepts that something created that order. We can only hope to understand these, "Laws" but who/what wrote them? It's tantamount to saying a timepiece design came upon itself. The ways of the Universe are much more complicated and balanced than the best Rolex.

Malicious, ,Spiteful, I know not of what you speak. Only corrupted interpretations of the New Testament, Old Testament or Koran would lead one to believe so.

In the Grand scheme of things we know very little, but are learning everyday, It strikes me that by your stating one who choses to believe in the, "possibility" that there is a G-d and puts their FAITH in such, is ignorant and closed minded in of itself, a VERY closed minded view.

If  I know nothing and You know nothing, how can you be making such absolute statements,

how do you know, when the existence of G-d cannot be PROVED either way.

So might I suggest you not be so insulting to those who happen not to share your views on the matter and keep an open mind .



Jeffrey S.
Jeffrey S.

@howard stern  What kind of education do you have? What are your credentials that enables you to discount what anybody has to say? The greatest minds in the world today have proven that there is a serious Global warming issue going on, most of which is the cause of manmade greenhouse gases. It is pretty basic Physics. Do you even know what Physics is?What is it exactly that you find to be B.S.? What is your argument?


Sounds to me like what you have to say is a lot of BS.


You should take some time to educate yourself a mite on matters you apparently have NO understanding of, before spouting off with your ignorance.




Jeffrey S.
Jeffrey S.

@Douglas Kubler  I do not have a Doctorate in science, I have a limited knowledge of Physics, but I am an intelligent person who has eyes and ears.


Melting of the ice caps, parts of the Western US experiencing the worst drought in recorded history, the Northeast having tornadoes and Super storms, violent storms around the world that now seem to be happening on a regular basis, whole species dwindling and dying as a direct result of environmental change and you are stating that this is the natural order of things as opposed to the result of  measurable increases in the Greenhouse gases in our atmosphere?


Maybe I am missing something, but I haven't come across a reasonable explanation that counters the argument that we are facing a manmade dilemma that pretty much requires an immediate and somewhat drastic manmade intervention if we are not to leave our heirs a pretty miserable place to live, if inhabitable at all.


Franklyn the only arguments I have heard to the contrary are $ motivated and from those who are reluctant to give up their way of life to some extent for the benefit of those to follow.


I think we bare beyond, "consensus"  and dealing with scientific fact.


howard stern
howard stern

@Lisa Causey really?  he is a shill for you to keep your house cold and your vegetables to farmed without the basis of life .... fossil fuel.... starve.... idiot

Jaya durkai
Jaya durkai

@Lisa Causey  if you have the episode The Clean room please mail me to sciencefriend17@gmail.com. This is a kind request if this is rude... pls forgive me.

howard stern
howard stern

@michael s. give me a f'ing break think....for one minute...the series talks about evolution...even if "we" burn up from global climate change some other organism will rise up until the sun burns itself up an kills everything...live comfortably now...dipshit!!!!

Joshua Smith
Joshua Smith

Natural selection has no credible competing theory.

Leo Maas
Leo Maas

@C W Very true. Still no satisfactory explanation for the "Cambrian explosion." I tend to believe in evolution, but not chance evolution.


JAMES TUTTLE-WILDMAN
JAMES TUTTLE-WILDMAN

@Ton Eman  Obviously we didn't watch the same program.  Too bad.  You missed a really great first episode.  Besides, it isn't made for Phd's in Astrophysics.