“Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” is coming to an end on Sunday. The beautiful — and often mind-blowing — science program will certainly be missed. We’ll especially miss its host, the inimitable Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Beyond being a captivating educator, Tyson has an impressive list of accomplishments. He received a B.A. in physics from Harvard, where he wrote his thesis on X-ray telescopes and worked in the research organization of Professor Riccardo Giacconi, who won a Nobel Prize in physics in 2002. Tyson earned an M.A. in astronomy at the University of Texas and then later a Ph.D. in astrophysics at Columbia. His research focused mainly on cosmology and astrophysics. Tyson is also currently the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History (where he had a role in the demotion of Pluto out of planetary categorization).
Tyson’s contributions to the scientific community — and beyond — are all the more profound because of his herculean efforts to generate interest among the wider public. Education and communication are the hallmarks of his career. He’s a prolific author, hosted Nova ScienceNOW, has appeared many times on “The Daily Show” and has made 10 appearances on “The Colbert Report.” And that’s just the beginning.
Here is a (by no means exhaustive) list of reasons why Neil deGrasse Tyson is so spectacular:
1) His interviews on climate change
Not only has “Cosmos” dedicated some serious airtime to the most pressing issue of our time; Tyson is using any platform he can to speak out about the dangers of global warning. Here, for example, is a clip of him in discussion with Chris Hayes:
2) His unwavering support of women in science
In a 2005 speech, then-Harvard president Larry Summers suggested there were fewer women in science due to ”different availability of aptitude at the high end.” In a panel appearance in 2009, Tyson was asked about Summers’ much-criticized claims. Here’s what he said. (Watch below starting at 1:01:31.)
3) Coining the term “Manhattanhenge”
In an article written in 2002, Neil deGrasse Tyson coined the word “Manhattanhenge.” According to his own writings for the American Museum of Natural History, Manhattanhenge is:
“When the setting Sun aligns precisely with the Manhattan street grid, creating a radiant glow of light across Manhattan’s brick and steel canyons, simultaneously illuminating both the north and south sides of every cross street of the borough’s grid. A rare and beautiful sight.”
It is called Manhattanhenge, because it is possible that future generations and civilizations will think the Manhattan grid has “astronomical significance,” the way we speculate about Stonehenge in the Salisbury Plain of England.
4) StarTalk radio
When “Cosmos” is through, fans can still get their Neil deGrasse Tyson fix from StarTalk radio. The program is partially funded by the National Science Foundation, and in 2013 it won a Stitcher Award for Best Science and Medicine podcast. It’s obvious why. The show is a stimulating and entertaining discussion of science featuring Tyson and other luminaries. A sampling of the program is below:
5) When he calls out creationists
Though he’s not taking the Bill Nye debate approach to scientifically refuting creationism, Neil deGrasse Tyson doesn’t shy away from the topic. In “Cosmos” he consistently calls out the pseudo-science, and when asked in interviews he also (eloquently) debunks it. Take an interview with WNYC host Brian Lehrer. There he states: “The issue there is not religion versus non-religion, or religion versus science. The issue is ideas that are different versus dogma.”
Later he tells the host:
“There is no example of someone reading their scripture and saying, ‘I have a prediction about the world that no one knows yet, because this gave me insight. Let’s go test that prediction,’ and have the prediction be correct.”
6) His Twitter account
If you are not following @neiltyson on Twitter, you are missing some witty and scientifically illuminating tweets. Here’s a sampling of great tweets:
7) His custom-made cosmic apparel
“I have about 100 celestial ties and about six celestial vests,” Tyson told Page Six. These cosmic clothing items are custom made by a bridal designer named Mary McCarthy.
“[Mary] was in one of my lectures one time — I don’t know her from anybody — she came up and started touching my body in a slightly uncomfortable way, and six weeks later this showed up in the mail,” he explained. “She was measuring me.”
8) His thoughts about “Gravity”
Tyson tweeted about inaccuracies in the movie “Gravity,” which were then gloriously turned into this Cinema Sins video (with some narration done by, none other than, Tyson himself).
9) His selfie with President Obama and Bill Nye
The first ever White House Student Film Festival was aimed at presenting why technology is important in the classroom, and it drew some big names in science: Namely, Bill Nye “The Science Guy” and Neil deGrasse Tyson. There they celebrated the students’ achievements and took this marvelous selfie:
10) He rowed crew, wrestled and danced
Despite being wooed by Carl Sagan to attend Cornell, Tyson attended Harvard, where he graduated in 1980. During his time at Harvard he balanced his love for and study of astrophysics with athletic pursuits. In high school Tyson was an undefeated wrestler, and he wrestled at Harvard, lettering as a senior. Tyson also rowed crew as a freshman, but found the sport too repetitive. ”Nothing compares to wrestling,” he said according to Ivy at 50. “I’d rather be a mediocre wrestler than a good rower.”
Tyson, by his own admission, also did a little dancing at Harvard and the University of Texas. Watch the video below:
11) This photograph
Yep, Neil deGrasse Tyson is even wearing a planet and star printed shirt, back in the day.