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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Neil deGrasse Tyson’s ‘Cosmos’

Neil deGrasse Tyson attends the premiere of Fox's 'Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey' on March 4, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

Neil deGrasse Tyson attends the premiere of Fox’s ‘Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey’ on March 4, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

On Sunday, Americans will have a chance to do something they haven’t done for more than 30 years: travel through the universe on TV through a show called “Cosmos.”

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson is hosting the remake of Carl Sagan’s classic science TV series. While Sagan’s series was produced and aired by PBS, Tyson’s show will premier on Fox.

Tyson joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to discuss the new show, outer space and his tweets.

Interview Highlights: Neil deGrasse Tyson

How is the new ‘Cosmos’ different from the original?

“Visual effects have improved since then. While the original ‘Cosmos’ was quite stunning in its day, given what our expectations now are, of every viewer who is a consumer of media, and so because we are airing on Fox, a major network, we had resources available to us to take full advantage of the methods and tools that filmmakers use to tell big blockbuster stories. Yet now they get to use their talents to help us tell the story of the universe. So this show will not only operate on you intellectually, because we will tell you stories of how science works and why it works and what we’ve discovered and why it matters, but combine that with stunning visualizations of the cosmos. We have the chance of affecting you intellectually and emotionally, and as well as even spiritually, because the wonder and awe of the universe are especially potent when presented in this way.”

Why Fox?

Fox in this case — it’s sort of unlikely bedfellows, right? I mean, it worked both ways. It was, we were brought to Fox as a possibility by Seth MacFarlane, who is a major Fox product… He’s just a generally creative guy but not normally associated with science unless you paid attention to each episode of ‘Family Guy,’ where you realize science rears its head in multiple episodes and in multiple ways. So if you paid close attention to that, you’d realize that Seth MacFarlane is a multi-talented, multi-interested person.”

Will this help bring back a sense of wonder?

“I think ‘Cosmos’ is an antidote to the lost wonder. By the way, as children we all wonder — we wonder all the time. And that gets lost in adulthood. It gets beaten out, it gets filtered out or diluted out. And I’d like to think that ‘Cosmos,’ for all ages — anyone with a beating heart. As Ann Druyan says, who’s the principle writer of the series, if you have a beating heart, that’s the target audience. Because we know deep down within you there’s a flame that maybe had gone dormant that we can fan or ignite in case it had blown out. This is the flame of curiosity, the flame of wonder, of awe, of all the things that make you want to learn something more tomorrow than you knew today. Combine that with the role that science has played in shaping civilization, realizing the awesome power that comes with that, you need to now become good shepherds of our culture and our civilization and especially of the world. ‘Cosmos’ takes you there, to all of those places.”

When and where might we find life — such as bacteria — on other planets?

“In the next 10 or 20 years, definitely, either on Mars, below the surface soils, or I’d like to think Jupiter’s moon Europa. Jupiter sits outside of the ‘Goldilocks zone,’ where the temperature’s just right for liquid water to sustain life as we know it. But in spite of that, the gravitational stresses from Jupiter on that moon pumps heat into it that has rendered that ice liquid, and we’re pretty sure it’s been liquid for billions of years beneath the frozen surface. So if you’re going to look for life in the solar system, one of NASA’s mantras is to follow the water.”

Video: Neil deGrasse Tyson introduces the Cosmic Calendar

Guest

Transcript

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

It's HERE AND NOW.

And this Sunday, Americans will have a chance to do something they haven't done for more than 30 years, travel through the universe on TV on a show called "Cosmos."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "COSMOS")

NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON: On this scale, all the objects we see, including the tiniest dots, are galaxies. Each galaxy contains billions of suns and countless worlds. Yet, the entire Virgo super cluster itself forms but a tiny part of our universe.

HOBSON: That's astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is the host of the remake of Carl Sagan's classic science TV series "Cosmos," which aired in 1980. Sagan's series was produced and aired by PBS. Tyson's show premieres on Fox this Sunday. And he joining us now from New York. Neil deGrasse Tyson, welcome.

TYSON: Thank you. Thank you. And it's not a remake. It's the continuation of the journey.

HOBSON: It's the continuation, OK.

TYSON: Yeah.

HOBSON: Well, let's listen to, though, a little bit of the original. This is Carl Sagan's 1980 series. Here's a clip.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST, "COSMOS")

CARL SAGAN: We are far from the shores of Earth, in the uncharted reaches of the cosmic ocean, strewn like sea froth on the waves of space. Our innumerable faint tendrils of light, some of them containing hundreds of billions of suns. These are the galaxies, drifting endlessly in the great cosmic dark.

HOBSON: Neil deGrasse Tyson, how is your "Cosmos" different?

TYSON: Well, first, it's 35 years later, 34 years later. So access to visual effects - well, visual effects have improved since then. While the original "Cosmos" was quite stunning in its day, given what our expectations now of every viewer who is a consumer of media - and so because we are airing on Fox, a major network, we had resources available to us to take full advantage of the methods and tools that filmmakers use for - to tell big blockbuster stories. Yet, now, they get to use their talents to help us tell the story of the universe. So the show will not only operate on you intellectually, because we will tell you stories of how science works and why it works and what we discovered and why it matters, but combine that with stunning visualizations of the cosmos, we have the chance of affecting you intellectually, emotionally and as well even spiritually, because the wonder and awe of the universe are especially potent when presented in this way.

HOBSON: Well, tell us about the choice of Fox, because, of course, PBS kind of makes sense for something like this. What about Fox though?

TYSON: Yeah. So Fox in this case, you know, it's sort of unlikely bedfellows, right?

HOBSON: Yeah.

TYSON: I mean, it worked both ways. It was - we were brought to Fox as a possibility by Seth MacFarlane, who's a major Fox product...

HOBSON: He's the creator of "The Family Guy" and other shows.

TYSON: ...and other shows, and other spinoff shows. And he's just a generally creative guy and - but not normally associated with science unless you pay close attention to each episode of "Family Guy" where you realize science rears its head in multiple episodes and in multiple ways.

So if you paid close attention to that, you'd realize that Seth MacFarlane is a multitalented, multi-interested person. He - I met him at a kickoff meeting of The Science & Entertainment Exchange. A new office opened in Hollywood, which is a branch of the National Academy of Sciences. This sort of crusty, stodgy organization said to themselves, if science - if we need to have science mainstreamed in the 21st century, we've got to partner with people who know how to reach everybody. And that would be Hollywood, through the writers and the producers and the storytellers.

And so in that kickoff meeting where scientist, myself among them, as well as Hollywood people who were interested in not only getting their facts right when they had the opportunity but wanted to tell more diverse stories. You know, how many law dramas are there? How many cop dramas or doctor shows? Maybe there are some interesting stories you can tell about scientists and their profiles and their lives and what the world looks like through their lens.

HOBSON: Well, and the cosmos.

TYSON: And that's where I met...

HOBSON: And I wonder - well, I wonder. Let me just stop you there. Do you think that we have lost our sense of wonder? That this is going to help bring it back for some people.

TYSON: Exactly. I think "Cosmos" is an antidote to the lost wonder. By the way, as children, we all wonder. We wonder all the time, and that gets lost in adulthood. It gets beaten out. It gets filtered out or diluted out. And I'd like to think that "Cosmos," for all ages, anyone with a beating heart - as Ann Druyan says, who's the principal writer of the series, if you have a beating heart, that's the target audience because we know deep down within you, there is a flame that maybe has gone dormant that we can fan and - or ignite if in case it had blown out. This is the fan of curiosity. I mean, the flame of curiosity, the flame of wonder, of awe, of all the things that make you want to learn something more tomorrow than you knew today.

Combine that with the role that science has played in shaping civilization, realizing the awesome power that comes with that, you need to now become good shepherds of our culture and our civilization and especially of the world. "Cosmos" takes you there to all of those places.

HOBSON: We spoke with Pete Worden the other day on the show, the head of NASA's Ames Research lab, who says he expects that we will know in the next decade whether we are alone in the universe. What do you think?

TYSON: I think that's ambitious. People have been saying we'll know in the next decade since the 1950s. So that's good. I like ambitious thinking. But you have to know, well, by what means are - is in place? What funded detection project is busy doing this? And by the way, alone might you mean intelligent aliens or might you mean just other biology somewhere else in the universe or in our backyard.

HOBSON: He was talking, I think, just about - it could be something as simple as bacteria.

TYSON: Sure, then I agree. In the next 10 or 20 years, definitely. Either on Mars, below the surface soils, or I'd like to think Jupiter's moon Europa. Jupiter sits outside of the Goldilocks zone where the temperature is just right for liquid water to sustain life as we know it. But in spite of that, the gravitational stresses from Jupiter on that moon pumps heat into it that has rendered that ice liquid. And we're pretty sure it's been liquid for billions of years beneath the frozen surface. So if you're going to look for life in the solar system, one of NASA's mantras is to follow the water.

And so I want to go like - as I've said publicly, I want to go ice fishing on Europa. You know, a funny part of that, if you find life on Europa, like, what would you call it? Would it be, like, Europeans?

(LAUGHTER)

TYSON: Because it's called Europa. I always wonder. What are we going to call this stuff?

HOBSON: And they could form a union and become the EU, actually.

(LAUGHTER)

TYSON: And so - but in terms of intelligent life, that's a whole other thing. Intelligent life can't be all that common because it's really rare on Earth and especially since we define ourselves to be intelligent. But in the eyes of an alien coming here who has the technology to make it here, they might observe us and conclude that there's no sign of intelligent life on Earth.

HOBSON: Neil deGrasse Tyson, before we let you go, I want to ask you just about something else that you do, which is you're very big on Twitter. You have a huge following. You're very...

TYSON: Crazy. I don't even understand it. I don't want to remind people to - guys, you know, I'm an astrophysicist. Do you realize this?

HOBSON: Well, but let me just read you a couple of your tweets. On October 26, you tweeted: I love the smell of the universe in the morning. You tweeted on January 5: If Noah's flood carved the Grand Canyon 4,400 years ago, then it nicely exposed rocks at the bottom laid 2 billion years earlier. And because we are up to daylight savings time, you tweeted last time we made the change: What would aliens say when told earthlings shift clocks twice a year to fool themselves into thinking there's more sunlight?

Neil deGrasse Tyson, in the 30 seconds we have left, your thoughts on your tweets.

TYSON: Yeah. You know, I'd like - inviting aliens and have them observe what we do because so much of what we do that we take for granted will just be weird or extraordinary or just plain dumb when observed by an alien from another civilization. So every now and then, I throw in a what would an alien think of our conduct. And so I tweet just my thoughts. I have these thoughts every day. It's what the world looks like through my lens as an educator and as a scientist. And so I don't tweet where I am or what I'm having for breakfast. They're just random stuff that floats in my head and then lands on the page.

HOBSON: Well, and they're great to read. Neil deGrasse Tyson, whose show "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey" will debut this Sunday night on Fox, thanks so much for joining us.

TYSON: Thanks for having me.

HOBSON: From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson.

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

I'm Robin Young. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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