Neil deGrasse Tyson — astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, wrestler, ballet dancer, People Magazine’s sexiest astrophysicist in 2000, philosopher, television host, radio personality, science advocate, teacher, communicator, and all around man of science. What can’t he do? In addition to his weekly podcast segment StarTalk Radio that airs on Sundays, he’s also currently touring the United States doing lectures for lucky audiences.
On a chilly evening in Chicago, one such lucky audience of over two thousand people flocked to the Auditorium Theater to see the esteemed man do what he does best – talk to people about science. Needing little introduction, NDT came out on stage and promptly informed his audience that he was only there to talk to them, almost incredulously. Tyson went on to take off his dress shoes and proceeded to engage with the audience as if he and everyone in attendance were old friends.
He spoke about a few hot issues that he was involved in — expressing disbelief that he caused such an uproar over his birthday wishes to Isaac Newton, which happened to fall on December 25th and was immediately pushed as his way of trolling Christians. After dismissing the false accusation, Tyson moved on to the most controversial scandal he’s been involved with – demoting Pluto from a planet to a dwarf planet. Displaying some of the “hate mail” he received from students over the issue, Tyson was astounded that Pluto was such a beloved planet across the world. The eloquent words of one young student stuck out among the submissions:
Tyson continued on with his presentation that highlighted some of his favorite parts about science, his dismay of how many people have been suppressed from participating in the intellectual pursuits of science or have actively chose not to participate due to other philosophical beliefs, and various other topics and points. Regardless of the subject, Tyson owned the stage the entire time, his excitement and passion refulgent and unmistakable. He apologetically went over his time by an hour, but he was only met with applause and eager listeners. Even the youngsters in the audience didn’t squirm from the prolonged physical inactivity likely because their attention was so rapt in the presentation.
There were two parts in the evening that stood out among the rest, and that’s saying something because every bit of the evening was packed with entertainment and enlightenment. The first was when Tyson put up an image from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft which had captured Saturn’s rings and Earth on July 19, 2013. He had all the lights turned off while displaying the image on the giant projection screen and began to read that famous passage from “the book of Carl”, as Tyson dubbed it. His captive audience barely drew a breath as the words were read, the image the only thing in view. Physically no one moved. Emotionally, not a single person was still in their seat for those moments. We were all in space, orbiting Saturn, looking back at our tiny world with all it’s beauty and wonder.
The second part of the evening that stood out just as much as that, as if the audience’s minds weren’t already blown enough, happened during the brief Q&A session. A young gentleman of the ripe old age of 11 asked Tyson about the nature of the multiverse theory, a topic that had been brought up several times throughout the evening, and whether a multiverse’s creation was like a cell splitting (similar to how twins are formed) or if it was more of a packet/explosion situation where the new multiverse just popped into existence. Not only was it amazing that after several adult audience members had opportunities at asking their own questions, an 11 year old asked the most science-y, awesome question, but the even more incredible thing was that Tyson was able to explain it so that not only would the questioner understand, but all the adults in the audience could comprehend as well.
As a fan of his work and his approach to science and life, it was more than rewarding to see Tyson live. Even coming with high expectations, they were all met and exceeded with the only disappointment of the evening coming after the show ended and finding there was no meet and greet table for him to sign books, pose in pictures, and accept praise and hugs.
Tyson continues his next round of lectures on February 10th at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco, CA and will bounce around from coast to coast at various theaters, universities, centers, and museums, you can find the full detailed list of his appearances at HaydenPlanetarium.org. If you haven’t seen him live and he’s coming to an area near you, and even if you have seen him, stop everything, cancel your plans if you have to and go see him. The man is phenomenal and it will likely be one of the best experiences of your lifetime. If you still can’t get enough of him, he has several books published, including his most recent book Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier. He is rather active and engaging on Twitter, and will have a new TV show on the National Geographic Channel called StarTalk, which will be based off of his current popular podcast.