published Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson offers cosmic update

by Naomi Jagoda

Rather than starting with a monologue full of scientific jargon Tuesday evening, noted astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson — the man once named People magazine's "Sexiest Astrophysicist Alive" — began by posting to his Twitter feed.

"You can play baseball on the airless Moon, but only if you find a way not to suffocate & if you don't care about curve balls," he tweeted in front of a packed crowd of hundreds.

Tyson, a Harvard University alumnus and the director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York, then gave what he called a "cosmic update," discussing advances in space research.

Tyson talked about how scientists are interested in other celestial objects that have ice -- such as Mars and Jupiter's moon Europa -- to learn about the possibility of life outside of Earth.

But he criticized Hollywood for being unimaginative about what aliens would look like, complaining that movie aliens have similar features to humans.

"If you were a jellyfish looking at a human and ET, you would not be able to tell us apart," he said.

Tyson also told the audience about an asteroid that is expected to get close to Earth in 2029 and has a one in 300,000 chance of crashing into the Pacific Ocean in 2036. Scientists have created a plan to deflect the asteroid's orbit, he said.

Americans have fears about science and numbers, he said. Tyson criticized the notion that the world will end in 2012 due to a Mayan prediction by noting that the Mayan civilization was destroyed.

"If they had prognosticating abilities, they should have seen that coming," he said.

Earlier in the day, Tyson had lunch with Chattanooga State Community Collegefaculty members and held a question-and-answer session with students where he mainly discussed science literacy, said Phyllis Mescon with Chattanooga State student affairs.

At the end of his presentation, Tyson noted that the United States is producing fewer scientific papers than it has in the past.

"All the sciences need support," he said.

After he spoke, he allotted about half an hour to a question-and-answer session.

When an 8-year-old girl approached a microphone, Tyson asked her if her teachers called Pluto a planet.

"They said that Pluto was a dwarf planet," the girl responded.

The answer pleased Tyson, who has been a leading supporter of the notion that Pluto is not a planet.

The crowd gave Tyson a standing ovation before and after he spoke. After the question-and-answer session, a long line of people waited to get Tyson's autograph.

Sarah Wood, 22, came to see Tyson from Knoxville, where she is a physics major at the University of Tennessee.

"It was awesome," she said. "He was nerdy as his pictures show him to be and I love it."

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wonderbrain7870 said...

I went to this seminar for extra credit for one of my classes. I went to the Q&A for students and found Dr. Tyson funny and interesting. However, at the seminar open to the public, I found myself offended. He spoke for about an hour on astrophysist subjects as the article above says. However, he also spent the last 45 minutes basically making fun of conservatives and christians. The thing is, the slides he showed at the end had nothing to do with physics or space or anything else he had previously talked about. He used it as a forum to make fun and laugh at conservative christians. If the college had instead asked for a speaker to come who spoke of creation and made fun of liberals just for a laugh, you would most certainly hear about it. I am ashamed that I was a part of that. I am ashamed that I sat through the whole thing for a few extra credit points. I assure you it was not worth it. It is sad that you are supposed to look for answers and discover what you believe in when you are in college and you only get one side. We should be exposed to all sides of the spectrum, but instead are critisized for our beliefs.

October 26, 2011 at 8:29 p.m.
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