Hailing from the Big Apple, where Dom currently resides, Neil DeGrasse Tyson is one of the most well-known scientists of our time. One of my personal heroes after learning about him through my degree in chemistry, holding a Bachelor of Arts degree in physics from Harvard University, a Master of Arts degree in astronomy from the University of Texas at Austin, and an MPhil (Master of Philosophy) and a PhD in astrophysics from Columbia University, Tyson is a champion for science communication. He is the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space and a research associate for astrophysics at the Museum of Natural History, both in NYC (Dom I’m looking right in your direction right now) and constantly appears on The Colbert Report, The Daily Show, and Real Time with Bill Maher, advocating science education and knowledge. On top of these, Tyson hosted the NOVA ScienceNow on PBS from 2006 to 2011, and currently hosts one of my new favorite TV shows, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey on FOX, a continuation of Tyson own personal hero Carl Sagan’s 1980’s show Cosmos: A Personal Voyage.
Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, produced by none other than Seth McFarlane of Family Guy and Ted, premiered on FOX on March 9th, and I was instantly hooked. Seeing the previews and knowing that Neil DeGrasse Tyson would be hosting it already had me very interested, but that first episode sealed my Sunday night plans from 8 to 9 PM for the next few months. Starting with the episode “Standing Up in the Milky Way” Cosmos immediately shows the aspect that I love most about it: the production value and the way the information is presented. Tyson uses the “Ship of the Imagination” to explore our world and universe’s history. Telling the stories of scientists, some famous, others undeservedly much less well-known, along with animations, Cosmos caters to the general population very well. Using this, it makes the information much more appealing than a lecture in a classroom!
Topics covered by Cosmos include:
- Condensing our universe’s history into a single calendar year – using the Big Bang as the first second of January 1st and present day as midnight of December 31st, did you know that our whole written history would be the last second of the last minute on December 31st?
- Artificial selection, selective breeding, natural selection, and extinction – one of the more controversial episodes, Tyson explains things such as evolution and mutation on a molecular and DNA level, five great extinction events the Earth has seen, the possibility of life on other planets, and the “Tree of Life”.
- Pattern recognition in early civilizations – the fact that our distant ancestors, THOUSANDS of years ago, were able to use the stars, the seasons, and primitive astrology to explain the happenings around them is amazing to think in my opinion!
- Those less well-known scientists I mentioned that shaped our world – people like Jan Oort, who discovered comets and the Oort cloud, Edmond Halley who collaborated with the great Isaac Newton to put the laws of physics in mathematical terms, Ibn al-Haytham whose ideas on light and optics in the 11th century, led to the invention of the telescope, Joseph von Fraunhofer whose work led to the discovery of the composition of stars and other planets using astronomical spectroscopy, Clair Patterson who was the lead investigator of lead occurrence on the earth and its effect on humans, and the team of ladies including Annie Jump Cannon, Henrietta Swan Leavitt, and Cecilia Payne whose work led to the classification of the stars, the means to measure the distance from a star to the Earth using spectra which was used to identify other galaxies, and the determination of the composition and temperature of the stars. Tyson begs the question in one episode “why do we know the personal lives of celebrities and athlete’s, but have no idea who Jan Oort is?” Powerful question.
- Black holes – the discovery of black holes by X-rays, and the postulations about the warping of spacetime and time dilation inside a black hole, as they are so dense and massive that even light cannot escape their gravitational force!
- The Electric Boy – an entire episode dedicated to the life of Michael Faraday! Faraday is the ultimate overcoming adversity story. Coming from absolutely nothing, and told his whole childhood he wasn’t smart and wouldn’t succeed, Faraday went on to harness electromagnetic power to create the first electric motor and electrical generator. Faraday also discovered the connection between light, magnetism, and electricity called the Faraday Effect (obviously!) which also led to the discovery of the Earth’s magnetic field. Faraday was a bonafide boss!
Cosmos has two episodes remaining, and it’s saving the best for last! It’s never too late to start watching and I one million percent recommend watching the next episode that airs on June 1st, taking Memorial Day weekend off, and it’s a doozey. According to the preview at the end of the last episode, Tyson will delve into the ultra-controversial issue of global warming, an issue that he has a very strong view on. Tyson, along with Bill Nye, constantly appears on TV opposite people claiming global warming isn’t a pressing issue, attempting to educate us all on the imminent issue at hand. This will be a can’t miss episode that I implore everyone to check out! I promise you won’t be disappointed. Cheers!