Enchanted by the Universe, deGrasse Tyson Shares His Passion

December 12, 2017
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Astrophysicist, author and science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson will appear at Asbury Park’s Convention Hall on Dec. 15.

By Mary Ann Bourbeau |

ASBURY PARK – Neil deGrasse Tyson’s future was sealed at the age of 9 when his parents took him and his siblings to the Hayden Planetarium, inside the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

“When the lights dimmed and the stars came out, I thought it was a hoax,” he said. “I was born in the Bronx, where there are about a dozen stars. When I saw countless stars inside the dome, I became enchanted by the universe. I’ve been hooked ever since.”

To satisfy his thirst for knowledge, Tyson’s parents bought him book after book from discount library carts on subjects including math, physics and the universe.

“I had a huge library in my room,” he said.

After graduating from the Bronx High School of Science, Tyson earned a B.A. in physics from Harvard and a Ph.D. in astrophysics from Columbia University. He now serves as director of the same planetarium he visited on that fateful day. He is also a research associate for the Department of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History.

“I look at the kids coming through the planetarium and I wonder if I’m serving their curiosity the way science and education served me when I was most receptive to being influenced,” he said.

Tyson, who was named “Sexiest Astrophysicist Alive” in 2000 by People magazine, will appear at Convention Hall in Asbury Park on Dec. 15 to present, “A Search for Life in the Universe.” It’s an entertaining, family-oriented evening designed to help unravel the mysteries of modern science. Beginning with Mars, he will discuss the ongoing effort to search for habitable planets, liquid water and life in the cosmos, culminating in the search for intelligent life.

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“I will talk about the latest attempts to find out if we’re alone in the universe,” he said. “It’s likely out there, given what happened on Earth. The universe is vast so finding it will be a challenge. But I think we’ll find out if there’s life in our solar system in the next 40 years. The mantra is: ‘follow the water.’”

Tyson noted that water has been discovered on Mars and on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, leading to speculation that we are not alone in the universe. But does he believe aliens in flying saucers visited Roswell, New Mexico in the 1940s and ‘50s, and government is covering up the evidence?

“I’m not authorized to say,” he joked. “But seriously, I haven’t seen any evidence convincing me that has happened, and there’s further conflicting evidence that people were being abducted. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t life in the universe.”

Tyson is the recipient of 20 honorary doctorates and the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal, the highest award given by NASA to a nongovernment citizen. He has hosted several television shows, including “Origins” and “NOVA scienceNOW” on PBS and the Fox series “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.” A frequent guest on late night TV talk shows, he also hosts “StarTalk Radio,” a podcast with rotating co-hosts that include comics, guest celebrities and scientists.

“People learn, laugh and become enlightened,” he said.

Tyson has also written 13 books in an attempt to explain science in fun and easy to understand terms. His latest is called, “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry.”

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“I don’t dumb it down,” he said. “It’s real science with real vocabulary, but we’re having fun with it.”

That’s what he does in his live show, which will also include a multimedia presentation and audience Q&A.

“I still think it’s crazy that I get to stand in a theater talking about astrophysics for two hours,” said Tyson. “It’s a hard sell when you think about it. But I’m enchanted to learn there are people who have an appetite to learn about science and the universe.”

This performance is a co-production of New Jersey Performing Arts Center and Madison Marquette, a partnership dedicated to enhancing diverse live entertainment, arts education and community engagement between Newark and Asbury Park. The show will take place at 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 15 at Convention Hall, 1300 Ocean Ave., Asbury Park. Tickets are $49-$89 and can be purchased through Ticketmaster or at The Stone Pony box office.

Arts and entertainment writer Mary Ann Bourbeau can be reached at mbourbeau@tworivertimes.com.

This article was first published in the Dec. 7-14, 2017 print edition of the Two River Times.

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