|Sneaking dinner in the church. It's as bad as he gets.|
|The dinner he's sneaking.|
|We can never take a good self-photo.|
|He's probably still talking...|
I am still recovering from the Neil DeGrasse Tyson lecture. One of the reasons I like going to these lectures is that we get a chance to see experts in their field discussing relevant issues. They share a perspective that is more informed than my own, and their insight is interesting. There is no doubt that Neil DeGrasse Tyson is smart. There is also no doubt that he is one of the pre-eminent astrophysicists of our time. But one would think that someone who studies the vastness of space might have a little more humility. I usually find extreme intelligence endearing, and am willing to forgive mild social ineptitude because of it. In this case, though, there was a sense of hubris and superiority that I found irritating.
A few things that really made the talk difficult for me:
1) He went over the allotted amount of time. We got there an hour early (on the recommendation of Elmhurst College), but we weren’t allowed to leave the premises. We left 2 hours into the lecture, and a friend of mine who also attended said that he went on for another 90 minutes. Yowza. Anyone who knows me knows that I do not appreciate abuses of time. Especially if I’m hungry, which I was.
2) There was no outline or structure to the speech. It was extemporaneous and much of it felt off the cuff. He straddled the line between lecturer and amateur comedian, which was awkward!
3) Much of the lecture focused on failure; the failure of our government to properly fund research (not unfounded), the failure of our government to properly acknowledge scientists and their contributions (which seemed a little self-serving, although a valid argument), and the failure of our scientists and engineers (for what seemed like 40-minutes, he highlighted bridge collapses, levee breakages, and structural oversights, with no real solution other than, “we have failed”).
4) There was not enough time spent discussing outer space, which we had been excited to learn about. At the very end, he discussed the vastness of space and how miniscule our existence really is. It was humbling! And fascinating.
The highlight of the speech was when he discussed the asteroid that is supposed to enter our orbit in 2029, and then maybe hit earth in 2036. The fact that we are able to know what impact (literally) it would have is absolutely mind-boggling to me. I find it incredibly encouraging that we are curious enough to study it, and smart enough to figure it out.
a. The Roland Quest lecture is named for an Elmhurst alumnus who worked for McDonnell Douglas as an engineer on the first space shuttle.
b. He’s working on a sequel to Carl Sagan’s, “Cosmos”, “to be aired on Fox next year”. There was audible surprise followed by, “I know.” And laughter.
2. Neil DeGrasse Tyson
a. Going to talk about scientific, cultural, political, sociological observations thorough the lens of an astrophysicist.
b. Organizations ask him if he can talk for 45-minutes about the universe. “ummm. It’s the u-niverse…”
c. Pluto (that was literally the only word on the screen and it elicited hearty laughter from the crowd). At this point, I had , “NERD” written in my notes, underlined at least 4 times.
i. NDGT was an accessory to the demotion of Pluto.
ii. Got hate mail from 3rd graders.
iii. In Illinois, it’s technically still a planet
iv. There are other objects that look more like Pluto, and they don’t look like anything else.
v. Pluto was American discovered, but named by an 11-yo girl in Cambridge who had good connections.
vi. At the time, Pluto Water was a laxative. Then we went into a whole spiel about that, which may or may not have involved the term, “black hole”.
vii. What is Pluto?
1. If Neptune is a Chevy Impala, Pluto is a matchbox car on the curb
2. Our moon is 5x the size of Pluto
3. Pluto is ½ ice
4. If Pluto got close to our sun, it’d grow a tail – “and that’s no way for a planet to behave”.
d. Killer Asteroids
i. Crater asteroid in Arizona – deep enough to sink a 60-story building. It took 7 seconds to create.
e. Naming Things
i. One of the bizarre tangents he found himself on:
ii. Astrophysicists are good at naming things. “Big Bang” vs. “Deoxyrbonucleicacid”.
iii. Thinks making complex names obfuscates the ideas you’re trying to convey.
f. Asteroid Entering Our Orbit
i. Will have a close approach on 4/13/2029 (a Friday!).
ii. It will dip below our communications satellites
iii. There’s a plan on paper to deflect it using retro-rockets that push it away.
iv. We will know in 2029 if it will hit us 7 years later.
v. If it did hit the earth, it would hit 700 km west of Santa Monica and would wipe clean the west coast
vi. It would plunge into the ocean, explode, and leave a 3 mile-wide hole.
vii. Walls of water will crash back into it
viii. The water would slosh around creating about 40 other tsunamis, each a little less severe than the one prior. The tsunamis would be 45-seconds apart.
ix. “And nobody has to die! Actually, two people would die. The stupid surfer, and the stupid weatherman”.
x. Astrophysicists and scientists have been sounding the alarm on this asteroid for thirty years, but nobody listened until one hit six weeks ago in Russia.
xi. Note: It’s incredible that not only can they predict the date and location of impact, but also what would happen after the impact.
g. Russia’s Asteroid
i. Traveled at 40,000 mpg (12-13 miles / second).
ii. It was 2/3 the size of the chapel we were sitting in, and spherical in shape.
iii. Kinetic energy heats the object. As the atmosphere thickens, the object explodes.
iv. NDGT was the 24th person to see the video. The TODAY show called him at 3:30 am.
v. Note: he couldn’t get the video to work, so acted out the explosion himself.
vi. The asteroid was 40x brither than the sun
vii. People saw a flash of light and ran to their windows, then the sound came and a blast wave broke windows – that’s how so many people were injured.
viii. Dinosaurs were around longer than the time they’ve been extinct. Without the meteor, there is reason to believe they’d still be here.
ix. The NY Post had a headline that said, “Kiss Your Asteroid Goodbye” – but above the masthead, there was a review of Leonardo DiCaprio’s newest movie. What does that say about our priorities?
h. Science and the World
i. CERN discovered the Higs Boson. If we would have built the Super Conducting Super Collider in Texas, we would have found the Higs Boson 3x faster, in the 1990s. But Congress cut it out of the budget entirely.
1. “Maybe if we would have called it the ‘Super Duper Collider’, they would have kept it”
ii. Higs Boson walks into a church, and the priest says, “I’m sorry, we don’t let Higs Bosons into the church”. The HB responds, “But you must! Otherwise, you can’t have mass”.
iii. China has a dam, the Three Gorges Dam, that is 6x more powerful than the Hoover Dam
iv. Russia actually as a mission to deflect Apophis (the asteroid that’s might hit us in 2036)
v. Brazil has the third largest aerospace industry in the world. It’s a $20B industry and employs 18,000 people.
i. Science Pride
i. Many other countries have famous scientists on their currency
ii. Isaac newton
1. Invented ridges on the coins so people didn’t shave the coins for gold/copper.
iii. German Deutsche – has a mathematical formula on their currency! You don’t have to know what it means; you just have to know that it’s important. Then you grow up, learn what it means, and ambition is embedded.
iv. Benjamin Franklin is on the $100, but there is no reference to his scientific discoveries. He’s there because he was a founding father.
j. Science in the USA
i. Showed a slide of “Tomorrow” as envisioned in the 1960s.
ii. Having a grand vision in front of a country shapes your culture. (ex: the space race).
iii. Today, we have bad math.
1. Headline that said: “Half the schools in the district are below average” – “you’d expect that, wouldn’t you?”
2. “80% of airplane crash survivors had studied the locations of the exit doors on takeoff”
iv. Congress – audible groan
1. “I’ve changed my views 360 degrees on that issue” – an anonymous member of Congress.
2. People are afraid of the number 13.
v. Profound science illiteracy
1. Bad engineers broke the levees in New Orleans. “We need to be honest about that”.
2. Then he gave a series of examples of dumb people in America. I have “aggravating” written in my notes.
i. At the end of the lecture, NDGT started talking about the size of the universe, which was really fascinating and humbling. I was too focused on getting the hell out of there, though, that I didn’t take notes. I regret that. But I was antsy. And in my defense, he said, “I’m wrapping up now” – but always kept on going.