Campus Life

Neil deGrasse Tyson explains astronomy to sold-out crowd

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson explained scientific discoveries in astronomy to a sold-out crowd in Reynolds Performance Hall on Feb. 27.

The record-setting lecture led to the creation of two simulcasts in Lewis Science Center and the College of Business Auditorium. Tickets sold out to the event within 45 minutes of first-day ticket sales.

He presented “The Search for Life in the Universe,” a presentation on the intricacies and wonders the solar system and beyond. Tyson stressed that the appearance was not intended to promote a book or his upcoming “Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey” series on Fox/National Geographic.

Tyson is the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium and a research associate at the American Museum of Natural History.

His hit PBS show, “NOVA ScienceNOW,” provided an easily relatable look into the wide ranges of the universe. His show tenure ran from 2006-2011.

Following his lecture, Tyson took questions from the audience, with questions ranging from science-related to personal questions.

Physics professor Will Slaton introduced Tyson, calling him a “bad[expletive].” The statement was a nod to a popular Internet meme in which he is featured.

Tyson started the appearance with a lighthearted jab at critics who disagreed with the demotion of Pluto from planet status. He said most of the hate mail he received was from elementary school kids, drawn in crayon.

“I didn’t pull the trigger, I didn’t aim the gun,” he said in relation to the demotion. “Get over it.”

Tyson and other scientists were part of a team that declassified Pluto.

Throughout his approachable teachings to the Reynolds audience, Tyson explained findings on different planets such as misconceptions about objects on Mars and Jupiter’s Red Spot.

Tyson showed information about Jupiter’s moon Europa that related to the potential for frozen water, as seen in the movie “Europa Report.” The 2013 film follows a mission to Europa for possible life and the astronauts who encountered crises while on the mission.

Continuing his exploration into the solar system, Tyson said his favorite planet is Saturn.

He joked with the audience, saying, “That is your favorite planet.”

Bringing his discussion closer to home, Tyson explained the fantasy people often have of Earth being a loving, peaceful planet. He pointed out several natural phenomena that contradict that notion.

A bold message appeared on screen, “Earth… wants to kill you,” and he gave examples of natural disasters that are responsible for a large number of deaths on the planet each year.

“And if Earth doesn’t get you, the universe will,” Tyson said, with a similar message appearing on screen.

Early last week, scientists discovered 715 new planets using the Kepler space telescope. He said the discovery was remarkable and one that opened up minds drastically to a new understanding of the universe.

Governor Mike Beebe attended the lecture, as well as UCA administrators.

Provost Steve Runge attended the lecture and said, “I thought his topic was relevant and engaging. He is one of the best speakers that I’ve heard.”

Before the lecture, Tyson appeared on camera with AETN host Steve Barnes and UCA News 6 anchor senior Holly Morrison.

“The last thing I want to do is talk about a book I wrote,” he said in a taped interview with News 6.

The series follows its 1977 incarnation, hosted by astrophysicist Carl Sagan. Sagan served as Tyson’s mentor

“I felt I was compelled to do ‘Cosmos,’” Tyson said.

With differing views on scientific discoveries, he said it is important for individuals to learn about their surroundings.

“Take classes because they are hard, not because they are easy,” Tyson said.

Tyson’s success on social media and on shows such as “The Daily Show” and “Real Time with Bill Maher” propelled astrophysics to a wider audience.

“Science is becoming mainstream,” Tyson said. “What’s the No. 1 sitcom on television? ‘The Big Bang Theory.’ Who would have thought?”

He appeared on CBS’s “The Big Bang Theory” on Nov. 4, 2010, as himself.

During his interview with UCA student media, Tyson said his guest-starring role was a memorable experience, but one he could have definitely improved on.

Sophomore Sarah Spellmann, physics major, attended with UCA’s Physics Club and took a picture with Tyson during the book signing.

“Astrophysics seems like something that only a select few can understand and it takes years of learning to understand,” she said. “I like how he made it accessible to the general public and made it fun while doing so.”

Ashley Love, Reynolds finance and marketing director, said she enjoyed how personable Tyson was.

“I think that no matter where you stand on beliefs or science or anything, you probably really enjoyed hearing him speak,” she said.

Love said the simulcast went generally well, despite a few glitches at the beginning and with audio and video problems at the end during his Q&A session.

Tyson called astrophysics terminology easily relatable and encouraged the audience to continue exploring topics to learn more about the universe.

“Astronomical vocabulary is cool,” he said. “There’s no deoxyribonucleic acid…”

In closing, Tyson read from Sagan’s book “A Pale Blue Dot.” The Voyager 1 exploration on Feb. 14, 1990 served as inspiration for Sagan’s writing.

“From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest,” Tyson said, reading the essay. “But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives… every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

“Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey” premieres at 7 p.m. March 9 on Fox broadcast and cable networks.

Tyson said it is the largest rollout “in the history of television” for a series, as the show premieres worldwide in 171 countries and 46 languages.

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