Astrophysicist, TV Show Host Discusses Top 10

March 25, 2011

Astrophysicist, TV show host and author, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, presented 10 Things ‘Out of This World’ You Should Know About the Universe during the Schooler Lecture at the University of Mount Union on Thursday, March 24.

Tyson is the on-campus host and executive editor of PBS’ show NOVA scienceNOW, research associate at the American Museum of Natural History and author of nine books including New York Times’ best seller Death By Black Hole. He explained on Thursday evening that science as a whole is a driving force in our future for many reasons, and in order to understand science, our society must become scientifically literate.

Throughout the lecture, Tyson counted down the top 10 things he believes everyone should know about the universe, in an effort to better educate individuals of varying interests on the universe.
 
10. The universe has a shipload of stars.
9. The universe is bad for your ego.
8. The universe is a time machine.
7. The universe is big and molecules are small.
6. The universe wants to kill you.
5. Earth may not be the origin of life.
4. Carbon is the foundation of life.
3. Life is of the universe.
2. The universe is of life.
1. The universe is alive within us.

“It’s hard to describe how big the universe is in the context of something bigger than it. We’re challenged in the frontier of astrophysics about how to give a terrestrial understanding of how big something is, but I’m going to try,” said Tyson when trying to explain how many stars the universe has. He explained that one billion is the population of Europe, and the population of Beijing is seven billion. It would take someone 31,000 years to count to a trillion, whereas quintillion is the number of grains of sand on an average beach. After progressing through multiples of 1,000, Tyson told the audience “sextillion is the number of stars in the observable universe.”

When further explaining number seven – the universe is big and molecules are small – Tyson said that there are more molecules in one glass of water than there are glasses of water in the universe. “There are also more molecules of air in a breath you take then there are breaths of air in the entire atmosphere of the Earth.”

Tyson explained that although many didn’t hear about it, a killer asteroid, Apophis, was discovered December of 2004. And, on Friday, April 13, 2029, it will dip below our Earth-orbiting communication satellites. It will be the biggest, closest thing ever observed to come by earth ever in civilization. It’s possible that Earth’s gravity could alter its orbit enough that it would hit seven years later.

He also compared the abundances of elements in the entire universe and those on earth, and science shows that the most frequent elements are exactly the same. “We have good reason to think that life as we know it will at least have similar chemistry as life as we don’t know it,” Tyson said.

When addressing how all of this knowledge and the enormity of the universe makes him feel, Tyson shared, “No, I don’t feel small. I feel large, intellectually large. What we do understand is cause to celebrate.”

Using data from the Hubble Space Telescope and other telescopes in the United States and Chile, Tyson researches star formation, exploding stars and the structure of the Milky Way. He was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2001 to serve on a 12-member commission that studied the future of the United States aerospace industry. The report contained recommendations that would promote a thriving future of transportation, space exploration and national security. He was appointed by Bush again in 2004 to serve on a nine-member commission, and in 2006, the head of NASA appointed Tyson to serve on its prestigious Advisory Council, which helps guide NASA through its perennial need to fit an ambitious vision into a restricted budget.

A native of New York City, Tyson earned a bachelor of arts degree in physics from Harvard University and a doctoral degree in astrophysics from Columbia University. His contributions to the public appreciation of the cosmos have been recognized by the International Astronomical Union in its official naming of asteroid 13123 Tyson.

Tyson joined Lynn Koplitz, a professional standup comedienne, to host StarTalk. Using celebrity guests combined with informative yet amusing banter, the show aimed at people who never thought they could like science. The National Science Foundation funded pilot program brought science to commercial radio. Tyson has been a guest on popular talk shows such as The Colbert Report, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Late Night with Conan O’Brien.
He has received 12 honorary doctorates as well as the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal. He is also the first occupant of the Frederick P. Rose Directorship of the Hayden Planetarium.

The Schooler Lecture Series was established in 1988 with grant funding from the Schooler Family Foundation. The Foundation's philanthropy has enabled Mount Union to provide a dramatically enhanced opportunity for young men and women studying at the institution and for residents in the greater Alliance area to experience the breadth and depth of American culture.

Past Schooler lecturers have included the late former U.S. President Gerald R. Ford; former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop; former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger; the Rev. Jesse Jackson; former hostage Terry Anderson; Schindler’s List author Thomas Keneally; the late holocaust survivor Leopold Page; Apollo 13 Commander James Lovell; former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor; environmental conservationist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.; the Archbishop Desmond Tutu; the late and former moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press Tim Russert; political analysts James Carville and Mary Matalin; writer and commentator Fareed Zakaria; and humanitarian Greg Mortenson.
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