Neil deGrasse Tyson Has Big Shoes to Fill

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Neil deGrasse Tyson takes the name for “spokesman of the universe.” Tyson is an astrophysicist by title and one of the few scientists with a personality that puts the comic in cosmic. Complimenting his amiable persona, Tyson’s ability to melt esoteric subjects into transparent prose makes him a gifted orator. Yet Tyson is not the first astronomer to put the star in rock star. The late astronomer Carl Sagan became a household name when Cosmos: A Personal Voyage aired in the 1980s. Now it is Tyson’s turn to serve as host for a rehashed version of the hit television sensation entitled Cosmos:A SpaceTime Odyssey. Given the original success of Cosmos, Neil deGrasse Tyson has some big shoes to fill.

Tyson has proved himself worthy of being deemed the modern-day Carl Sagan. Yet much time has lapsed since Cosmos originally aired 34 years ago. The teaching styles of the two men are unparalleled, however and are tailored towards different generations. Sagan had a distinguishing, monotone voice that was both sober and direct. In contrast, Neil deGrasse Tyson’s excitement for the universe often digresses into a sermon long tangent that is both humorous and informative. Both men have modes of teaching that are riveting to listen too: one old school, the other new school.

Neil deGrasse Tyson Has Big Shoes to FillIn regards to the former, what made Sagan’s Cosmos so appealing is not just the information that was presented, but how it was presented. Sagan is widely known for his congested voice and memorable quotes in Cosmos. In particular, Sagan is noted for his emphasis on the letter “b” when pronouncing “billions” – contrary to popular myth, Sagan never uttered the phrase that he is most known for in the Cosmos series, “Billions and billions.” More controversially, Sagan is also known to have expressed his naturalistic worldview, the view that nature is all there is, in infamous lines such as, “the cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be” and “we are star stuff.”

With immortal quotes like these, it is clear Neil deGrasse Tyson has big shoes to fill. Now that the star ash has settled, old Cosmos fans are curious whether the new Cosmos series will live up to its predecessor. To add fuel to the fire, Tyson’s skills as a scientist do not transcribe to his skills as an actor. For instance, check out Tyson’s short performance on The Big Bang Theory. Nevertheless, Tyson does have experience as a television host on NOVA Science Now and is a frequent guest on The Colbert Report. Perhaps Tyson will feel more at home hosting Cosmos as well.

Although Neil deGrasse Tyson has a personality that one cannot help but love, his relationship with the general public has not been tension free. Specifically, Tyson received a backlash of hate mail, from third graders to adults, when Pluto was demoted from a planet to a “dwarf planet.” On the other side of the coin, Neil deGrasse Tyson was recognized as the “Sexiest Astrophysicist of the Year” by People Magazine, giving him even more leverage to serve as the face for the new Cosmos series.

Carl Sagan was an intellectual giant and left Neal deGrasse Tyson some big shoes to fill. Luckily for Tyson, the universe is much bigger than Sagan’s shoes. Since Cosmos first aired, a host of exciting cosmological discoveries have been made, from dark energy to the confirmation of the Higgs Boson. Given these astronomical findings coupled with Tyson’s persona, Cosmos is sure to be a voyage to just set sail.

By Nathan Cranford

L.A. Times
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