Neil deGrasse Tyson is at home in the universe. As a citizen of the cosmos, he’s taking off where Carl Sagan left off.
When National Geographic and Fox decided they needed to make a new and updated version of the legendary series Cosmos, which had originally featured Carl Sagan as the narrator, they went straight to Dr. Tyson as a man who would be knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the material. Not to mention being keen about the teaching of the universe to a general public far removed from the academic world.
However, Dr. Tyson himself started a long way from the academic world; he grew up in the Bronx in a part African-American, part Puerto Rican family. When he started applying for college, he nearly ended up studying under the master, Carl Sagan, at Cornell. Instead, Harvard presented an opportunity to Dr. Tyson, and that was where he gained a Bachelor of Arts in physics. He then moved on to Texas, where he earned a Ph.D. He helped more accurately define the Hubble constant, and contributed to the discovery of dark energy in 1998. He also collaborated with a future Nobel prize winner Brian Schmidt. To see someone at home in the universe, deGrasse Tyson is a pretty good place to start.
The new series will be called Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, and will take viewers through all of the discoveries that have changed the view of our universe in the last twenty years, with dark matter and dark energy being principal among them. It was Edwin Hubble himself who first demonstrated the expansion of the universe at a rate that bears his name, the Hubble constant. What was missing from his early work in 1950s was the why. The answer to all this is currently believed to be the elusive universal element, dark energy.
This is a hypothetical form of energy that is present throughout the universe and tends to accelerate universal expansion, working against the force of gravity. In galaxies, like the Milky Way, and in solar systems like this one, gravity dominates the actions of all celestial bodies; however, this does not seem to be the case in the vast spaces between galaxies. This means the Hubble constant must be redefined as the Hubble function, and it’s values will come from the scientific analysis of dark energy.
The sooner this happens the better, because, as Dr. Tyson points out, if it doesn’t stop, “We’re on a one way ticket to oblivion.”
At a recent meeting of the American Astronomy Society, Dr. Tyson also promoted outreach to non-scientific people, especially on the subject of extrasolar planets. These earth-like planets exist outside of our solar system, and because these planets could potentially harbor life in some form, they have the potential to cause a profound change in how humans view themselves in the nature of things.
Dr. Tyson also encourages the use of social media such as Facebook and Twitter, so if most people think nothing profound ever gets tweeted, they may be in for a shock.
If and when Earth’s population finds its home in the universe, Dr. de Grasse Tyson will be right there to lead the way.
By Andrew Willig