Watch Neil deGrasse Tyson Host ‘Selling Space’ Panel Tonight

Hot off of the popularity of the Cosmos reboot, host Neil deGrasse Tyson is going to host a panel at 7:30 p.m. EDT (11:30 p.m. UTC) tonight about “selling space.” Check it out in the livestream above. Here is the description from the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, which is hosting the event:

From serving NASA’s cargo needs to sending tourists on space vacations to mining asteroids for profit, aerospace engineers could transform space into our backyard. The sold-out 2014 Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate at the American Museum of Natural History will explore the idea of “selling space” with a panel of six entrepreneurs and space historians. 

Besides Tyson (who is director of the museum’s Hayden Planetarium), here is who else is participating:

  • Wanda M. Austin, President and CEO, The Aerospace Corportation
  • Michael Gold, Director of DC Operations and Business Growth, Bigelow Aerospace
  • John Logsdon, Professor Emeritus, Space Policy and International Affairs, George Washington University
  • Elliot Pulham, Chief Executive Officer, Space Foundation
  • Tom Shelley, President, Space Adventures, Ltd.
  • Robert Walker, Executive Chairman, Wexler & Walker Public Policy Associates

There are no tickets left for the event, but you can watch it in the livestream above and interact with the hashtag #AsimovDebate.

For more information on Tyson, visit his website. The 13-part Cosmos series is airing every Sunday or Monday in many jurisdictions; check your local listings for more information.

‘Cosmos’ Reboot Starts With a (Big) Bang

With much anticipation from the astronomy and science community, the opening episode of the new and updated version of Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” series premiered to the masses on television in North America last night. This reboot – this time hosted by astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson — did a wonderful job of paying homage to Sagan while showcasing the grandeur of space, as well as portraying the infinitesimally small amount of time that humanity has existed. Like its original counterpart, the first episode of the series takes viewers on a quick tour of the Solar System and Universe, showing our cosmic “address” as it were, going back to the Big Bang, but also touching on multiverses and a potentially infinite Universe.

As de Grasse Tyson said at the beginning, “from the infinitesimal to the infinite; from the dawn of time to the distant future.”

There were also – seemingly – an infinite number of commercial interruptions. You can watch the episode in its entirety below, without commercials, thankfully. Watching it on television last night was disappointing because of those commercial interruptions – sometimes only a couple of minutes apart — making one wish for the PBS-commercial-free version of the original Cosmos with Sagan.

And I wasn’t the only one feeling those sentiments:

(Yes, I watched the show while keeping an eye on what the Twitterverse had to say about it.)

But airing the series on the Fox Network and its affiliated channels (I watched it on the National Geographic Channel) was a calculated move by the series’ producer Seth MacFarlane to showcase the series and the science to a population that may not otherwise be exposed to science at this “popular” level. And clearly, science and the scientific method gets top billing in this series:

“This adventure is made possible by generations of searchers strictly adhering to a general set of rules: test ideas by experiment and observation … follow the evidence where it leads and question everything,” said Tyson.

This planetary nebula's simple, graceful appearance is thought to be due to perspective: our view from Earth looking straight into what is actually a barrel-shaped cloud of gas shrugged off by a dying central star. Hot blue gas near the energizing central star gives way to progressively cooler green and yellow gas at greater distances with the coolest red gas along the outer boundary. Credit: NASA/Hubble Heritage Team
This planetary nebula’s simple, graceful appearance is thought to be due to perspective: our view from Earth looking straight into what is actually a barrel-shaped cloud of gas shrugged off by a dying central star. Hot blue gas near the energizing central star gives way to progressively cooler green and yellow gas at greater distances with the coolest red gas along the outer boundary. Credit: NASA/Hubble Heritage Team

With a combination of real images from telescopes and spacecraft, computer generated imagery and surprisingly watchable animations, most intriguing for me was the “cosmic calendar.” Those who have seen Sagan’s original series will remember his version of the cosmic calendar as a way to conceptualize the age of the Universe, compressing 13.9 billion years down to one year. Tyson’s flashier calendar also showed how January 1 would mark the Big Bang and December 31 would be the present – making each day represent about 40 million years. At this rate, humanity’s entire recorded history only occupies just the last 14 seconds of the year.

But as Tyson noted, science has provided unmatched discoveries during that short span of time: “The scientific method is so powerful that in a mere four centuries, it has taken us from Galileo’s’ first look through the telescope to knowing our place in the Universe.”

Giordano Bruno in Cosmos. Image courtesy of Fox.
Giordano Bruno in Cosmos. Image courtesy of Fox.

When I heard there were going to be animated sequences of historical events (the original series used actor portrayals) I was disappointed, but the animations in this series premiere surprised me by being quite engaging.

They told the story of Giordano Bruno, the 16th century Italian monk turned astronomer. He had theorized that other planets existed with other lifeforms like ours. In his 1584 book “On the Infinite Universe and Worlds,” Bruno wrote : “… there is a single general space, a single vast immensity which we may freely call Void; in it are innumerable globes like this one on which we live and grow. This space we declare to be infinite… In it are an infinity of worlds of the same kind as our own.”

This was controversial for his time, but even in a church-dominated society, it wasn’t grounds for being declared a heretic. But later Bruno followed his argument to its logical conclusion: if there are an infinity of worlds, and if some worlds have sentient beings created by God, then wouldn’t these planets also need to be saved by God? The notion other Jesuses was not viewed well, and the church convicted him of heresy, and burned him at the stake.

Phil Plait talked more about this today in his review of “Cosmos” and I agree with him that this wasn’t really about showing religion in a bad light, but about making “a bigger point about suppression of thought and the grandeur of freedom of exploration of ideas.”

Other fun moments were when a CGI (but quite realistic) dinosaur fish named a Tiktaalik crawled out of the sea right next to Tyson, depicting the evolution of life on Earth. Most endearing was perhaps Tyson’s claim that “we are ALL descended from astronomers;” how our ancestors depended on the stars to know the change of seasons.

While this series premier was a quick overview, one surprise is that it showed just one theory – and the oldest and perhaps outdated — of how our Moon was formed, by a conglomeration of the same debris that make up Earth. These days it seems the theory of a Mars-sized planetary collision is the most accepted theory.

The show began and ended with the voice and words of Carl Sagan, and Tyson shared his story about his own personal interactions with Sagan. This was a very authentic part of the show, and allowed the torch to be passed from Sagan to Tyson.

And then there was Tyson using Sagan’s famous “we are made star stuff” quote:

“They get so hot that the nuclei of the atoms fuse together deep within them to make the oxygen with breathe, the carbon in our muscles, the calcium in our bones, the iron in our blood,” Tyson said. “You, me, everyone: We are made of star stuff.”

This series premiere was a rousing tribute to science and I am definitely looking forward to more. Here’s hoping this series does what MacFarlane had in mind: get the general public to start talking about science again.

If you are feeling the need for more “Cosmos” you can watch the original series at Hulu Plus, and at the Carl Sagan website, learn more about the legend.

There is “The Seth MacFarlane collection of the Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan archive, 1860-2004” at the Library of Congress. MacFarlene supported this new Carl Sagan archive.

See more at the Cosmos Online website (there’s even an app for it.)

TV Show ‘Cosmos’ Gets An Epic Reboot This Sunday

Sunday is going to be a once-in-a-generation moment. For those of us who were too young to remember the original Cosmos (writer puts hand up) or those who are eager to see the classic 1980 Carl Sagan series updated with discoveries since then, we’re all in luck. A new series starring astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson is premiering on Fox.

NASA hosted a sneak preview of the series at several NASA centers, and the early reviews on Twitter indicated a heck of a lot of excited people in the audience. In the video above, you can watch the Q&A with the main players after the premiere concluded.

“Watching Cosmos, I saw a Brooklyn-born researcher pull back the curtain on a world of seemingly dense scientific concepts, which, with the flair of P.T. Barnum, he managed to present in ways that made them accessible to those of us lacking a degree in mathematics or physics,” Seth MacFarlane, the executive producer of Cosmos (who is best known for creating Family Guy), said in a statement.

“He was able to make a discussion of the most distant stellar objects suddenly become relevant to our small, day-to-day lives. And he did so with such obvious passion, enthusiasm, and love for the knowledge he imparted that even those who had little interest in science found it impossible not to want to go along for the ride.”

The original Cosmos series premiered in 1980 and won three primetime Emmys. Sagan — who was involved in NASA missions such as the Voyagers — combined his worktime experiences with more meditative thoughts on the cosmos, the role of intelligence and the future of the universe. It’s still easy to purchase the original series, despite its age, so we’re sure Fox is hoping for the same kind of longevity with the reboot.

deGrasse Tyson, for those who don’t know, is the engaging director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York. Like Sagan, he’s a New York City-based popularizer of science who appears regularly on shows that aren’t necessarily science focused — such as The Colbert Report, where he has spoken several times and is often cited as one of Colbert’s most-returning guests, if not the most returning one.

We’ll be eagerly watching the series as it comes out. For more information, you can check out Fox’s website.

Weekly Space Hangout – July 26, 2013

It’s time for another Weekly Space Hangout, where a dedicated team of space journalists run down all the big stories in space and astronomy for the week of July 26, 2013.

Host: Fraser Cain

Panel: Jason Major, Scott Lewis, David Dickinson

Stories:
Astrological Sign of the Royal Baby
Cosmos Trailer Showcased at Comiccon
Asteroid 2003 DZ15 Close Pass on Monday
Comet ISON Image with Galaxies
Delta Aquarids Meteor Shower
Pale Blue Dot II
Apollo 11 Anniversary
Some Success with the Kepler Recovery

We record the Weekly Space Hangout live as a Google+ Hangout on Air every Friday at Noon Pacific, 3:00 pm Eastern. You can watch the show live on Google+, or here on Universe Today. But you can also watch the archive after the fact, if live video isn’t your thing.

Feeling Small in the Universe?

Well, you shouldn’t be. Yes, you’re just one person out of over 7 billion on Earth. Yes, your lifetime — even if you live to be well over 100 — is just a fraction of a flicker of a blink of a tardigrade’s eye (do tardigrades blink?) compared to the 4.6 billion years of the age of the planet. And yes, Earth is only about a third the age of the Universe… which is filled with billions of other galaxies each with stars and planets of their own. Space is just so awfully darn…big.

But, as astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson reminds us in the video above, so are you. So is everyone, in fact. And why? Because we are all a part of it. We’re a part of the Universe… each one of us an inexorably inseparable part of the big picture, a connection between past, present, and future in the most elemental sense possible. As Tyson famously stated once before, “we are in the Universe, the Universe is in us.” And it’s true.

So if you have an admittedly large and heavy ego, put it down for a moment and check out the video. You may come to realize it was weighing you down a bit.

“Those who see the cosmic perspective as a depressing outlook, they really need to reassess how they think about the world.”

– Neil deGrasse Tyson

Video: Big Think

Book Review: Your Ticket to the Universe

Your Ticket to the Universe is full of images and graphics of astronomical wonders.
Your Ticket to the Universe is full of images and graphics of astronomical wonders.

Every once in a while an astronomy book comes out that combines stunning high-definition images from the world’s most advanced telescopes, comprehensive descriptions of cosmic objects that are both approachable and easy to understand (but not overly simplistic) and a gorgeous layout that makes every page spread visually exciting and enjoyable.

This is one of those books.

Your Ticket to the Universe: A Guide to Exploring the Cosmos is a wonderful astronomy book by Kimberly K. Arcand and Megan Watzke, media coordinator and press officer for NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, respectively. Published by Smithsonian Books, it features 240 pages of gorgeous glossy images from space exploration missions, from the “backyard” of our own Solar System to the more exotic environments found throughout the Galaxy… and even beyond to the very edges of the visible Universe itself.

Find out how you can win a copy of this book here!

As members of the Chandra team, headquartered at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Kim and Megan have long had firsthand experience with incredible astronomical images — they previously designed and coordinated the internationally-acclaimed From Earth to the Universe and From Earth to the Solar System photo installation projects, which helped set up presentations of space exploration images in public locations around the world.

Your Ticket to the Universe features images from some of the most recent missions - like MSL!
Your Ticket to the Universe even features images from some of the most recent missions – like MSL!

Your Ticket to the Universe takes such impressive images — from telescopes and observatories like Hubble, Spitzer, SDO, Chandra, Cassini, GOES, VLT, and many others, as well as from talented photographers on Earth and in orbit aboard the ISS — and puts them right into your hands, along with in-depth descriptions that are comprehensive yet accessible to even the most casual fans of space exploration.

This is my favorite kind of astronomy book. Although I look at images like the ones in Your Ticket to the Universe online every day, there’s something special about having them physically in front of you in print — and well-written text that can be understood by everyone is crucial, in my opinion, as it means a book may very well become an inspiration to a whole new generation of scientists and explorers.

“The sky belongs to everyone. That’s the premise of this guidebook to the Universe. You don’t need a medical degree to know when you’re sick or a doctorate in literature to appreciate a novel. In the same spirit, even those of us who don’t have advanced degrees in astronomy can gain access to all the wonder and experience that the Universe has to offer.”

Kim K. Arcand holds a copy of her book during a presentation at the Skyscrapers Astronomical Society of Rhode Island
Author Kimberly K. Arcand holds a copy of her book during a presentation at the Skyscrapers Astronomical Society of Rhode Island

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting co-author Kimberly Arcand on several occasions — I attended high school with her husband — and her knowledge about astronomy imaging as well as her ability to present it in an understandable way is truly impressive, to say the least. She’s quite an enthusiastic ambassador for space exploration, and Your Ticket to the Universe only serves to further demonstrate that.

I highly recommend it for anyone who finds our Universe fascinating.

Your Ticket to the Universe will be available online starting April 2 at Smithsonian Books, or you can pre-order a copy at Barnes & Noble or on Amazon.com. Don’t explore the cosmos without it!

Library of Congress Acquires Sagan’s Personal Collection, Thanks to Seth MacFarlane

Carl Sagan

Carl Sagan’s personal archive — a comprehensive collection of papers contained within 798 boxes — was delivered to the Library of Congress recently for sorting… thanks in no small part to “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane. (Yes, you read that right.)

According to an article in the Washington Post yesterday by Joel Achenbach — who also got a chance to browse through several of the boxes — MacFarlane provided an “undisclosed sum of money” to the Library to purchase the collection from Sagan’s widow Ann Druyan, who had kept the papers preserved in storage at their home in Ithaca, NY.

As briefly reported in a previous article here on Universe Today, MacFarlane has been working to bring Sagan’s Cosmos series back to television, with Neil deGrasse Tyson reprising Sagan’s role. In fact it was Tyson who introduced MacFarlane to Druyan, and apparently got a peek at the astrophysicist’s impressive collection of papers, which “ranges from childhood report cards to college term papers to eloquent letters written just before his untimely death in 1996 at age 62.”

“He wasn’t a pack rat at all,” Druyan said. “But I think he had a sense of his place in cultural history. I think he knew he was corresponding with the great and the near-great both inside and outside of science.”

Also noted in the article are “files labeled F/C, for ‘fissured ceramics,’ Sagan’s code name for letters from crackpots.” How very Sagan.

The collection is spread out across tables inside a vast room in the Library of Congress’ Madison Building for organization, a process expected to take several months. The Library will announce its acquisition later today.

Read the full article here on the Washington Post.

As a fan of Carl Sagan, Cosmos, Neil Tyson and Seth MacFarlane… there’s really nothing to not like about this!

The Most Astounding Fact About The Universe

In a 2008 interview by TIME magazine, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson was asked what he thought the “most astounding fact” about the Universe was. Never at a loss for words, the famed scientist gave his equally astounding answer. His response is in the video above, set to images and music by Max Schlickenmeyer.

It’s the best three minutes and thirty-three seconds you’ll spend all day.

Via io9.com and It’s Okay to be Smart.

What Does a Nebula Sound Like?

What do things sound like out in the cosmos? Of course, sound waves can’t travel through the vacuum of space; however, electromagnetic waves can. These electromagnetic waves can be recorded by devices called spectrographs on many of the world’s most powerful telescopes. Astronomer Paul Francis from the Australian National University has used some of these recordings and converted them into sound by reducing their frequency 1.75 trillion times to make them audible, as the original frequencies are too high to be heard by the human ear.

“This allows us to listen to many parts of the universe for the first time,” Francis wrote on his website. “We can hear the song of a comet, the chimes of stars being born or dying, the choir of a quasar eating the heart of a galaxy, and much more.”
Continue reading “What Does a Nebula Sound Like?”