Once again, happy to answer any questions you have -- about anything.

Comments: 7486 • Responses: 48  • Date: 

[deleted]1887 karma

Hey guys, to avoid the same questions as last time take a look at Neil's previous AMA

neiltyson1524 karma

Thanks. So that I don't have to be the meanie.

[deleted]1386 karma

If a space traveling entity approached you with an opportunity to visit any celestial object from any distance and allow you bring one scientific instrument of your choosing, where would you go and what would you bring? The size of the instrument does not matter, but keep in mind the farther away your object of choice is, the more it may have changed (i.e. if you hoped to visit the recently discovered supernova SN 2011fe, you would arrive 21 million years after the event).

neiltyson2521 karma

I'd bring my iPhone, as the most compact representation of modern culture there is. And I'd visit a civilization on a galaxy 65 million light years away. Assuming I can get there instantaneously, I would look back to Earth with their presumably super telescopes and witness the extinction of the dinosaurs - the light of which is just now reach them.

ElCracker1286 karma

Which books should be read by every single intelligent person on planet?

neiltyson2371 karma

The Bible [to learn that it's easier to be told by others what to think and believe than it is to think for yourself]; The System of the World (Newton) [to learn that the universe is a knowable place]; On the Origin of Species (Darwin) [to learn of our kinship with all other life on Earth]; Gulliver's Travels (Swift) [to learn, among other satirical lessons, that most of the time humans are Yahoos]; The Age of Reason (Paine) [to learn how the power of rational thought is the primary source of freedom in the world]; The Wealth of Nations (Smith) [to learn that capitalism is an economy of greed, a force of nature unto itself]; The Art of War (Sun Tsu) [to learn that the act of killing fellow humans can be raised to an art]; The Prince (Machiavelli) [to learn that people not in power will do all they can to acquire it, and people in power will do all they can to keep it]. If you read all of the above works you will glean profound insight into most of what has driven the history of the western world.

thomchristmas1154 karma

This infamous picture.

Discuss? With the sideburns and pythons that could strangle Hulk Hogan, the masses are curious as to what was going through the mind of a young Neil deGrasse Tyson.

If you've done an AMA before and answered this, I missed it.

neiltyson1367 karma

If you are referring to that bootlegged photo of me from many moons ago: http://i.imgur.com/vwGWK.jpg ...at the time, I was still wrestling and doing a bit of dance. So I was in very good shape. My mutton chops would be gone within a year of that photo, replaced with pointy sideburns. My continuing, silent homage to the original StarTrek series. I don't remember the event for when the photo was taken, but given the glow of sweat on my skin it was probably a party and I was surely dancing.

tvz11119 karma

Do you ever wake up, look in the mirror and say, "God damn, I am Neil deGrasse Tyson"?

neiltyson1988 karma

Ha Ha. No. But your question reminds me of the fact that in a mirror, the optics conspires so that you can only kiss yourself on the lips.

Eurofooty1032 karma

Hello from Sweden, Neil. It is a real honour to welcome you back to Reddit again.

What do you think of the latest developments at CERN with the Higgs-Boson and what will discovery of this particle do for physics and science in general?

What type of technologies or societal impacts could its discovery lead to?

neiltyson1987 karma

To discover something you expect to be there does almost nothing to advance physics. We're all focussed now on the misbehaved neutrinos, and any other UNEXPECTED result that may emerge from CERN, the most energetic particle accelerator in the world. FYI: One of many signs that the USA is fading: Our Super-conducting Supercollider, which was cancelled by Congress in the early 1990s, would have been 3X the energy of the current Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Now our particle physicists stand on the Atlantic shores, look across the ocean, and long for the frontier that was once theirs.

wehavecontrol994 karma


neiltyson2116 karma

"Get over yourselves"

horse420843 karma

Is time linear?

neiltyson1410 karma

No. All motion and all gravity distorts time. For high precision work, the full hammer of relativity needs to be invoked to get the right answers. GPS satellites, for example, invoke relativistic adjustments to their time-keeping, because of their high (and persistent) orbital speeds.

DiegoStorm787 karma

Are you becoming addicted to Reddit?

neiltyson1676 karma

No. But clearly others are.

[deleted]767 karma

Hey Neil, can you somehow try to to make it a little easier to grasp the concept of infinity. best wishes from Germany!

neiltyson1862 karma

No. The human mind, forged on the plains of Africa in search of food, sex, and shelter, is helpless in the face of infinity.

Therein is the barrier to learning calculus for most people -- where infinities pop up often. The best you can do is simply grow accustomed to the concept. Which is not the same as understanding it.

And when you are ready, consider that some infinities are larger than others. For example, there are more fractions than there are counting numbers, yet they are both infinite. Just a thought to delay your sleep this evening.

HumanityGradStudent754 karma

I am a graduate student in the humanities, and I have also have a tremendous love and respect for the hard sciences. But I find there is a lot of animosity in academia between people like me and people in physics/biology/chemistry departments. It seems to me that we are wasting a huge amount of time arguing amongst ourselves when in fact most of us share similar academic values (evidence, peer review, research, etc).

What can we do to close the gap between humanities and science departments on university campuses?

neiltyson1047 karma

The accusations of cultural relativism in the science is a movement led by humanities academics. This should a profound absence of understanding for how (and why) science works. That may not be the entire source of tension but it's surely a part of it. Also, I long for the day when liberal arts people are embarrassed by, rather than chuckle over, statements that they were "never good at math". That being said, in my experience, people in the physical sciences are great lovers of the arts. The fact that Einstein played the violin was not an exception but an example.

And apart from all that, there will always be bickering of university support for labs, buildings, perfuming arts spaces, etc. That's just people being people.

thebebopfunk719 karma

Do you agree that we shouldn't be actively pinging or trying to communicate with other life? I think I'm talking about what Stephen Hawking mentioned.

neiltyson1894 karma

If aliens are just like us, then they should be feared.

Rochallor714 karma

If you were given free reign to affect the curriculum of schools, what would you change in science education?

neiltyson1631 karma

I would teach how science works as much as I would teach what science knows. I would assert (given that essentially, everyone will learn to read) that science literacy is the most important kind of literacy they can take into the 21st century. I would undervalue grades based on knowing things and find ways to reward curiosity. In the end, it's the people who are curious who change the world.

PopperFeind420647 karma

What do you believe will be the biggest technical innovation within the next 20 years and why?

neiltyson1274 karma

These are always hard to predict. Who would have thought 20 years ago that the smart phone would out-perform every handheld device ever portrayed in a science fiction story, even those taking place centuries into our future. With that caveat, I'd say machine-brain implants that connect the internet directly to our neurophysiology. That'll be fun. Perhaps then we can beat Watson on Jeopardy.

[deleted]641 karma

For people like me. Who are you?

neiltyson1523 karma

Just someone who is in love with the universe. And as Carl Sagan said, "when you're in love, you want to tell the world".

_Meece_574 karma

What is your favorite quote from a scientist?

neiltyson1275 karma

Ptolemy, in the margins of his greatest work AD 150, "Almagest" (which literately translates from the Arabic to "The Greatest"): In this book he lays out the mathematical foundations for the geocentric universe. Reflecting on the motions of the planets, not fully understanding what's going on, he penned: "When I trace at my pleasure the windings to and fro of the heavenly bodies, I no longer touch earth with my feet. I stand in the presence of Zeus himself, and take my fill of ambrosia."

KhanOfBorg517 karma

  • What do you think the next steps will be after the discovery of Kepler 22-b? What is its implication in terms of space exploration and education?

  • Do you think terraforming a planet (such as Mars or Venus) could be in the near future? What are some of the obstacles to such an endeavor? Are we, as humans, even ready for something like that?

I also just wanted to say, thank you for everything that you do, and for answering our questions. You're a huge inspiration to me.

neiltyson991 karma

Kepler 22-b is just the beginning. We need a whole catalog of earth like planets around sunlike stars in the goldilocks zone so that we can learn the statistics of who and what we are. Next steps, seeing if their atmospheres offer telltale signs of surface life - life as we know it, that is. Oxygen, among them.

As for terraforming - we can't predict next week's weather on Earth. The hope of terraforming another planet to our liking in the face of that fact seems among the most far-fetched concepts preoccupying the futurist.

Smad3487 karma

Time travel.. when do we get to do this? And how do you see it coming to fruition?

neiltyson1356 karma

Space Station Astronauts routinely travel a few thousandths of a second into our future. Beyond that, get over the fact that for the foreseeable future we remain prisoners of the present.

Zestycookie472 karma


neiltyson1102 karma

Burbidge, Burbidge, Fowler, & Hoyle 1957 "The synthesis of elements in the Star" which is the first realization that we are stardust. http://rmp.aps.org/abstract/RMP/v29/i4/p547_1

emmetttt465 karma

Do you believe neutrinos can exceed the speed of light?

neiltyson1098 karma

I can accept data, if the data require it of me. But for an extraordinary result such as ultraluminal neutrinos, you must not only repeat the experiment, which they did, somebody else has to duplicate the experiment as well. Only then will the result gain acceptance. This is the way of science. A fact often neglected by journalists - especially those who chase the results of single experiments and report them as new truths.

rotzooi444 karma

You do have any words on the passing of Christopher Hitchens?

neiltyson1106 karma

My tweet from yesterday summarizes any eulogy I would give: Gone too Soon: Christopher Hitchens 62. Tireless supporter of human rights and fighter of dogma under any guise. http://dft.ba/-1dTT

[deleted]425 karma

Since you're a NYC local, what's your favorite restaurant in the city?

neiltyson1105 karma

I retain a curious fascination with the Wall Street McDonalds. It has large brass handled front doors. Has a stock ticker in full view. And there's a piano player during lunch. Apart from that, my favorite place to eat in the city is home. The great tragedy of learning to cook a dish better than what you find in a restaurant. Also, wine at home is manifold cheaper than wine in a restaurant.

Chrischievous413 karma

What do you think is your most significant accomplishment in your lifetime so far?

EDIT: Wording.

neiltyson1003 karma

Raising my children. Still a work in progress, but I'm happy with what I see thus far. whether or not they become scientists, they are no doubt scientifically literate.

NedNederlander412 karma

If there was any sci-fi show you could be a regular on, which one would it be and why?

neiltyson931 karma

No question about that one: Big Bang Theory. The characters are playful and I can relate to every one of them, either from personal experience or from close friends and colleagues.

Nathsies379 karma

Do you think we'll find the Higgs boson in 2012, given the recent news? He sounds like a tricky fellow to me.

neiltyson1038 karma

There will be more reports that they might have found it. And at some point we will all agree that it's there. Would have been much more fun for physics if it was not there. Nothing like a failed prediction to stir the pot.

Snap65373 karma

Solar Flares 2012.. Are we screwed?

neiltyson885 karma

We currently enjoy an unprecedented capacity to monitor the Sun - in HiDef. So the reporting of solar flares and other surface burps is at an all time high, but in fact the Sun is as "quiet" as it's been in more than a century. So if we don't survive 2012, it will be no fault of the Sun, or any other 2012 hoaxing that pervades the internet.

Gottlos372 karma

I know this isn't science related but what are your thoughts on the political situation in the US? For example NDAA, SOPA, PIPA, Occupy Wallstreet, etc, etc.

neiltyson937 karma

Gotta be my last question. Sorry for all whose questions follow this one. Three hours is a good chunk of time for any activity.

Curious thing about protests: People are shocked when they turn violent, with police exercising force far greater than the forces they oppose. But its the very act of police violence that garners headlines. And it's those headlines that trigger change more than any other force.

People praised Mayor Bloomberg for allowing the protesters to stay on location. But it was not his authority to grant or deny. The right to protest for grievances with the government to be redressed is fundamental to what it is to be American -- a nation founded on the need to protest the abuses of government.

In a free market economy you can't dictate the salaries of what a board chooses to compensate its executives. We have all bought into the capitalist system of our nation. Outlawing the fact that some people get too much money would be like handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500. But what one can do is draft a manifesto that offers guidelines for what is a sensible distribution of compensation in a company -- for example, setting a maximum ratio of salaries between the highest compensated person and the lowest. Companies that comply would then get listed as best for its workers. This would put social pressure on the system, in much the same way the Green Moment has put social pressure on companies to conduct business with greater respect for the environment. That may be the best hope for the 99% movement.

Bye Reddit for now. Maybe another one in February 2012. As always, keep looking up.

-Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeting @neiltyson https://twitter.com/#!/neiltyson

TheFluxLine353 karma

Do you see artificial wormholes ever being produced? Would we ever be able to sustain any 'exotic materials' necessary?

Thanks for being here! :)

neiltyson762 karma

Yes. But as long as our energy source is fossil fuels extracted from the ground beneath our feet, we are hopeless far from wielding the energy necessary to open a wormhole in the space-time continuum.

nimaudva291 karma

Do you think the commercial availability of space tourism is in the near future? I'd gladly save up my whole life to see Earth from the outside.

neiltyson555 karma

yes. But not as currently conceived by Branson and others. They promise orbital flight, as a natural next step from the vertical joy-rides that take you above the light-scattering molecules of Earth's atmosphere. To go up and back is VERY DIFFERENT from reaching orbit with the requisite speed of 17,000 miles per hour -- sideways. That being said, who wouldn't take such a trip. I'd surely save several years of vacation money for those 20 minutes or so. Good luck to them.

raika11182283 karma

What is the biggest hurdle you've encountered when arguing for increased scientific funding? (i.e., in schools, in the public, etc)

EDIT - I also wanted to say that your last AMA truly blew my mind away with ideas I hadn't considered before... such as that a photon of light does not experience the passage of time since, by it's nature, it's traveling at light speed.

neiltyson643 karma

Many people are not prepared to understand how innovations in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are fundamental to the economic health of nations. they think that scientists are just another special interest group fighting for money like everybody else. In my next book (Feb 2012) titled "Space Chronicles" I make this point at length.

har-yau254 karma

Any favourite Observatory?

neiltyson487 karma

LIGO: http://www.ligo.caltech.edu/ Like Don Quijote, trying to accomplish the near-impossible. These are physicists trying to detect the passage of gravity waves across earth, sent by distant colliding black holes.

derpFunkee246 karma

What's your opinion on popularisers of science who, although are enthusiastic and well-qualified in the subject, dumb it down for the layman to the point where it borders falsehood?

neiltyson752 karma

I have unorthodox views on that subject. The exact truth of what a popularizer says is not as important as whether the program or speech or interview sparks interest within the viewer. In the end, true enlightenment must be a self-driven quest. And the details are incidental to this journey.

BrokN9236 karma

If you could move to the earth-like planet 600 light years away, would you buy a beach house or a villa?

neiltyson553 karma

If first try to lose some weight. if the planet has the same density as Earth, then at 2.5 x our diameter, you'd weigh 2.5 times more than your Earth weight. After that, I'd surely buy a coastal beach house. Always loved the ocean.

Daveyo520235 karma

What is your favorite moment with Stephan Colbert?

neiltyson832 karma

Was fun to be interviewed with him out of character in this event: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YXh9RQCvxmg But my favorite private moment was at his home, the day before he was flying to LA. In his library I noticed a blank space on a shelf, adjacent to a stretch of trophies and awards he's won for his comedy and journalism. I asked why that spot was blank. He said it's for the Grammy he was going to win that weekend - which he did.

Stealtoe219 karma

What is the best thing you have ever eaten, and/or what is your favorite meal?

neiltyson612 karma

Fois Gras. On my deathbed that will be the only food I will regret not having eaten more.

Favorite meal? Several. Lobster with a side of pasta in garlic sauce, accompanied by a Les Clos Grand Cru Chablis. I also love my own pistachio-mint encrusted rack of lamb, roasted potatoes, blanched broccoli, accompanied by a vintage Pauillac. And my wife makes an awesome meatless lasagna. FYI: About 2/3 my dinners in a week are vegetarian.

goirish2200209 karma

In your opinion, what is the most beautiful image we have of/from space?

How do you feel about privatizing space travel?

If you didn't have to worry about funding, government oversight, or anything, and you had an unlimited budget, what specifically would you spend your time researching?

neiltyson636 karma

Gotta love earth from space, on any scale. My favorite recent image is taken by Cassini in orbit around Saturn. In this image, Saturn has eclipsed the Sun. And in this view there's a four-pixel sized speck to the left of the ball, outside the ring, barely visible without a zoom. That's Earth. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/ba/Saturn_eclipse.jpg

zetaorionis207 karma

what do you do in your spare time for leisure?

neiltyson450 karma

Broadway & Off-Broadway Theater. Fancy restaurants, half the time reflecting that I could make it better myself. Wine tastings. Reading antiquarian books on science - especially those on which our understanding of the physical universe pivoted. Playing with my kids

pneumo179 karma

Are you expecting the Mars rover Curiosity to find life, or signs of life?

neiltyson509 karma

Curiosity is not designed to find life. Instead it will look for biochemistry that would serve life. That being said, if a creature scurries by, or crawls up to the camera, that would not require complex chemistry experiments to confirm.

fireinthesky7177 karma

What would you say to a science-minded kid in a school refusing to teach evolution? And do you have any words of advice for someone (me) strongly considering a career in science education?

Btw, you rock. Thanks for doing this.

neiltyson478 karma

Learn evolution on your own. There's nobody stopping you from accomplishing that. And if the absence of evolution is state sanctioned, then move from the state. Such an exodus (if you allow the term) will render the region without scientifically literate people and the local economy will collapse in this technologically competitive 21st century in which we live. My hope is that Americans usually pay attention to when they lose money. So poverty may be the force required to effect these changes.

As for a career in science education, just remember that you sparking interest and enthusiasm in a student is far more valuable than the simple imparting knowledge.

Ewli172 karma

If moving faster than the speed of light were possible, What place would you visit first?

Or what would be the first thing you did?

neiltyson564 karma

If moving faster than light were possible, it would also mean you could go back in time. I would go straight to the Big Bang -- and earlier. Surely the most awesomest moments in all of time

krirby166 karma

do you have a favorite planet or solar system?

neiltyson452 karma

Saturn in our own solar system. And You gotta love Alpha Centauri. The closest star system to our own. Not yet known if it has planets, but it's always best to meet your neighbors.

cynicalabode152 karma

Fairfield University physics major here. My buddy and I (the only two sophomore physics majors) are coming to your lecture on campus in April!

We have a large liberal arts core curriculum (60 credits), so majoring in physics is extremely difficult schedule-wise and damn near impossible to do without knowing you want to study physics beforehand. This, and that physics scares people for some reason, explains why our department is so small.

As a science educator, any ideas on how to make studying physics more appealing?

PS: I can't wait for you to come to campus!! Any chance you'll want to meet our small physics crowd?

neiltyson398 karma

50% of my college education was in courses that had nothing to do with math or science. And I don't regret a moment of it. There's something to be said for when all parts of the brain fire at all times. Harvard, for example, a liberal arts school, has many more Nobel Prizes in the sciences than does MIT. Just a random fact to reflect on.

About making physics more appealing, not enough attention is given to the power it grants the student. it's typically taught as just another subject, rather than as the foundation of nearly all knowledge of the natural world. If more people knew that, perhaps they'd be flocking to the physics classes rather than shunning them.

sahilm110 karma

If you had to describe your life, all that you've experienced, all that you've discovered, in one single sentence, what would you say?

Also, who's your scientific hero?


neiltyson454 karma

Newton is scientific hero. unquestionable. Just search Tyson and Newton on YouTube and you should go straight to see me waxing poetic on the man. (Unless Mike Tyson has a Newton video too, but that's unlikely.)

I can do better than a single sentence. I offer a single word: "Maybe"

ddollas102 karma

Do you think we may be close to probing Europa for signs of life?

neiltyson181 karma

It's a little beyond our technology at the moment, that's why it fell in priority among planetary scientists for what missions they want to do next. But I'd say yes, definitely in the next 20-30 years.

iceroulette100 karma

I was reading the other day about space elevators. What kind of safety procedure would be required if the elevator gets stuck in the upper levels of the atmosphere?

neiltyson268 karma

Send hamsters first. If the elevator where itself a hoistable mini-hotel, then who would complain about having to stay in space a few more days?

frehop93 karma


neiltyson189 karma

Big objects formed from the original rotating gas cloud. Google the "Nebular Hypothesis" for more on this. But it also accounts for why the planets (and asteroids) all orbit the same direction and in approximately the same plane. Everything else - especially wayward comets, were likely flung into odd orbits by close encounters with Jupiter, whose gravity wreaks havoc on passersby.

obviouslyCPTobvious91 karma

Could you please explain how time works in relation to traveling real fast? The fact that when light travels it happens instantaneously, but it in our time it takes years. I remember seeing you mention it before, but I don't completely understand it enough to be able to explain it to somebody else.

neiltyson171 karma

The bizarre effects of Relativity come about from three cosmic facts: The speed of light in a vacuum is always measured to be the same value by everyone, at all times, no matter your state of motion. And the laws of physics are the same everywhere. From that comes all these bizarre effects on time and space -- things you learn in the first two weeks of Intro Relativity. A favorite (classic) book I can recommend on this subject is "The ABC of Relativity" by Bertrand Russell


WntSignaling39 karma

How long do you think it will take until we have the means to actually live somewhere else in the Universe?

neiltyson95 karma

Live or visit? Visit, sure. Live, perhaps never. There's no place like home.

Did you know that Antarctica is wetter and balmier than Mars, yet people are not lined up to build condos there.