Neil deGrasse Tyson packs Tulane’s McAlister Auditorium

By: Seth Mattei


Neil deGrasse Tyson, the famous astrophysicist who currently hosts FOX’s “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey,” gave a spirited lecture to a capacity audience at Tulane University’s McAlister Auditorium. The auditorium holds 1,968 people. Despite a torrential downpour, so many people showed up and waited for hours in the rain that many were unable to get inside. Upon discovering how many people had waited in the rain to get into the venue, Tyson commented that he was “deeply moved.”

Although no one in New Orleans could see it due to the weather, Tyson’s appearance at Tulane coincided with a total lunar eclipse that he explained “due to the amount of dust and pollution in the atmosphere,” would cause the moon to take on a red hue. “It’s the color of rose petals,” said Tyson, “but some people are referring to it as a ‘blood moon.’” He then poked fun at an article with the headline, “How to watch the blood moon,” accompanied by a photograph of the sun setting. “This is the sun!” he exclaimed.

Tyson is a protégé of Carl Sagan and holds a Ph.D. in astrophysics from Columbia University, but despite the complexity and serious nature of his expertise, he has an active sense of humor which kept the audience laughing throughout his presentation. The majority of which consisted of images projected from his laptop onto a screen onstage.

The presentation started at 8 p.m., went on for just under two hours, and was followed by an audience Q&A. Various topics were discussed, from the controversy surrounding Pluto no longer being considered a planet, to last year’s asteroid explosion a mere two miles above the surface of Russia, and a video of the death of the comet ISON as it passed over the sun in late 2013.

Before the Q&A, Tyson ended his official presentation by calling down the house lights and showing an image taken by the Voyager satellite of Earth from the center of the solar system. The image, in which Saturn was the dominating presence, was requested from NASA by Carl Sagan. Tyson described it as an “interplanetary selfie.” Earth is seen as a tiny speck, roughly of the same seismic significance in which humans perceive stars. He then read an essay written by Sagan as the late astrophysicist reflected on the relatively insignificant size of the “pale blue dot.”

“That’s here, that’s home, that’s us,” Tyson read. “It is where everyone you have ever heard of has lived their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings. Every hero and coward. Every young couple in love. Every mother and father. Every superstar.”

During the Q&A, one audience member asked Tyson for advice regarding how science should be taught in schools. Tyson quoted French aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupery: “If you want to teach people to build boats, you don’t show them how to cut wood, or thread rope, or hammer nails. You teach them to long for the open sea.” He added, “If I had control over science education, that’s how it would be taught, and it would assimilate curiosity more than knowledge.”

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