Neil deGrasse Tyson

February 29, 2012

I am Neil deGrasse Tyson, Ask Me Anything...

Third in the trilogy of AMAs

No question, just wanted to say you're awesome



First I want to say how much of a great human you are in general.

Now, the question: If the President offered you a position like being the Secretary of Sciences, would you take it? Why/why not?

No such post. Of all the cabinet slots in the US Government, science is not represented. It is, however, in other developed countries. The US has a President's "Science Advisor", though.

I am an educator, not a politician. So I think I am at my best when I compel people to demand science literacy from their elected officials. That would make a much stronger country than me holding one post or another.

What can you tell a young man looking for motivation in life itself?

The problem, often not discovered until late in life, is that when you look for things like love, meaning, motivation, it implies they are sitting behind a tree or under a rock. The most successful people recognize, that in life they create their own love, they manufacture their own meaning, they generate their own motivation.

For me, I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than I knew yesterday. And along the way, lessen the suffering of others. You'd be surprised how far that gets you.

If I can get verification on that, you've just made my bloody day.

A Brit, I presume. In america, when things get bloody, it's a bad thing.

What's your favorite ice cream flavor?

Strawberry, by far. But so much of it is bad out there. So when I need to play it safe, I order chocolate.

Do you read sci-fi? If so, who is your favorite author, and what's your favorite series?

No, not generally. But I love expensive SciFi movies. Contact. Deep Impact, 2001: A space Odyssey. I prefer science fiction to science fantasy. Hence my preference of Star Trek over Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.

Will you be attending the Reason Rally on March 24th?

No. I am big supporter of reason as a way of life and of thought. But I do not join movements or attend rallys. Often they got bogged down in group-think. Something I assiduously avoid in life.

Of all the talk shows you have been on, which host do you enjoy the most?

In order: Stewart, Colbert, Maher, Fallon, Smiley, Maddow, Leno, O'Brien. Of those, Colbert is by far the hardest interview. Stewart is a distant second. And everyone else is a distant third.

How much ice do you need to reach absolute zero?

If the temperature of the ice is above absolute zero, then never. But even if it's at absolute zero, it's still never. You can approach absolute zero "asymptotically" but never reach it because to reach it requires something colder than it to bring the temperature down to it.

where were you when you heard about the large magellanic cloud supernova in 1987?

University of Maryland, College Park. A lecturer in the Department of Astronomy there. A non memorable moment for people of the Earth since it was visible primarily from the Southern Hemisphere.

What is the most interesting fact about our universe that you enjoy sharing with people?

See previous AMA

Sir, what do you think of the recent wave of weird legislation Congress has been pushing? See: and

Is our democracy circling the drain?

Yes. It's as though we have forgotten fundamental founding principles of the Nation. Every American should read the Constitution at least once per year. it will help us all to keep politicians honest.

Who do you look up to most?

My parents. Married 60 years. Rational. Curious. Considerate. Sensible. Moral.


Didn't know Feb 29th was cake day.

Thanks for doing another one of these!

I was wondering, what are your thoughts of your ever growing internet popularity? Your stance on the leap second?

With "popularity" comes ever more responsibility and accountability. Sometimes I regret my lost freedom to just act stupid every now and then.

Gotta love leap seconds. Evidence that the rotation rate of Earth is slowing down. They're fun and intriguing, but pointless on that scale. We should just collect an hour's worth of them (every 500 years, or so) and just add the hour. It's simpler and puts less stress on programmers.

We've got one coming this June 30. I'll be tweeting about it. So stay tuned.

What's the status on the James Webb Telescope?

Currently funded at its higher (over-run) cost, but that did not happen without casualties in the NASA budget for other projects. A bitter sweet victory for a telescope that was almost cancelled.

Why do we eat dinner at night?

Nobody said you have to. Personally, about 1/4 of the time I eat dinner food for breakfast -- usually leftovers from a previous dinner. But that being said, I've served breakfast food for dinner.

What is the airspeed of an unladen swallow?

"Dammit Artgum, I'm an astrophysicist, not an ornithologist."

In the likely event that the Sun will die, how possible is it that by then we would have developed a synthetic Sun?

By then (in 5 billion years) it'd surely be easier to just move to another star system than to solve that problem.

If you could live in any sci-fi universe, which would you pick and why?

StarTrek. For the warp drives. And the story lines were often deep, and rich in social consciosness and accountability. I was also impressed that Captain Kirk could have sex with aliens.

Who is your celebrity crush?

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. Back when I was in shape, I had the body fitness that he has. And we are about the same size. So perhaps it's a bit narcissistic. Also, I've always been enchanted by Jamie Lee Curtis.

What grinds your gears?

Watching and listening to people in power who believe they know what they are talking about but do not.

Anything in biology/life sciences that really impresses you/blows your mind?

That within one linear centimeter of your lower colon there lives and works more bacteria (about 100 billion) than all humans who have ever been born. Yet many people continue to assert that it is we who are in charge of the world.

How do you think we can encourage politicians to support education and science initiatives?

Threaten to no re-elect them. That works every time.

Hi Neil,

What policy changes would you like to see the Obama administration make right now to help promote science learning in American schools?

Fully funded mission to multiple destinations in space. Which reminds me:

If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea..." - Antoine de Saint Exupery

Do any political candidates in the US (not just the presidency but as a whole) put enough effort into promoting science and, if so, can you name a few?

Rush Holt. Representative from NJ. He's got a PhD in Physics. I have an interview in queue with him for StarTalk radio. Will likely air in march or April. In it we talk about all the Members of Congress who are scientifically literate -- and all those who are not.

You are such an inspiring speaker. I just saw you on the daily show from Monday night.

How did you become such a powerful orator?

Thanks for the compliment. I pay close attention to the body language of who I am communicating with. While I am speaking, are they bored? excited? indifferent? curious? If you don't take notice of all this then you are just lecturing. If and when you do, then you are empowered to discover the conduits of contact that can maximize the value and meaning of what you are saying to others.

what can I do, as a citizen and college student, to help push for a stronger space program?

Write letters to the editor and OpEds. The easiest way for broad audiences to learn about, and if well-argued, agree with your sentiments on any subject at all.

How effective do you think programs like the FIRST Robotics Competition are to spreading STEM to American teenagers?

I think they are a bit over-rated. It's certainly fun to do -- for all parties involved: Students, Teachers, Parents. But robotics is such a narrow slice of the totality of STEM that I worry other dimensions of learning might get sidestepped in the process.

What's the best way to introduce someone to the beauty of science without scaring them too much? Thank you sir and please continue to be awesome!

Take them to a planetarium show.

How is progress on the next Cosmos series coming along, and when do you think it will air?

Scripting is a bit delayed - about 6 months. if that affects everything else in the accordion, then it won't air before the fall of 2013, perhaps as late as early spring, 2014.

First off, hello! I love your work, you fantastic man!

Second, what advice do you have for highschool students who are aspiring scientists?

Hang out with others who are also aspiring scientists. That way the huge supply of interstitial time in your life is spent not on watching American Idol, but on geeking out on things like memorizing digits of Pi, or testing each other on obscure science trivia. The most successful people in life are those who recover all those lost hours per day and use them for enlightenment.

I love space!! Thank you Neil!!

"I need my space" too!

Hi Neil! Thanks for doing this again!

Not-so-serious question: Do you need/want an intern?

Serious question: What's the best decision you've ever made?

I am currently internless. What I currently do does not make good use of one.

Best decision I ever made? To be true to my lifelong interests even in the face of naysayers who are always there to tell you what you cannot or will not achieve.

If you could have anyone else's job whose would it be and why?

P.S. Just bought Space Chronicles!

The astronaut selected to take the first steps on Mars.

And thanks for getting Space Chronicles. It's here if anybody else is interested:

In how long, and by what means, will humanity reach Type 1 status?

You mean a type 1 Civilization, I presume? I'd give us another century. We already control rivers and coastlines. That's a start on our way to a thorough program of geo-engineering, where we tap the thermal energy of volcanoes and exploit the cyclonic energy of hurricanes, and extract the tensile energy of earthquakes.

Do you have any advice for someone heading to Graduate school in September?

Answers are a luxury enjoyed only every now and then. So early on, learn to love the questions themselves.

Given a nation behind the effort, how soon do you think we as a people could colonize another solar system?

I understand there are a lot of unknowns, not least of which "where", but I'm curious as to your thoughts.

Without an new understanding of the fabric of the space-time continuum, enabling wormhole travel, the answer is never.

If you could say one sentence to the entire world, with everyone guaranteed to listen, what would you say?

Be just to one another, and never forget how to dream.

Hello, I'm a huge fan of everything you've done and I want to congratulate you on your recent book release- Space Chronicles. I intend to pick it up in the next few days! My only question for you is.. what is the story about how you first met Carl Sagan?

[90 sec]

Who is your favorite Street Shark?

Would have to be Ripster

Hello again, sir! My question is, what is the dumbest thing a member of the general public has ever said to you, and how did you respond? (Or how WOULD you have responded, if you could go back and do it again, as many of us have often wished?)

I'm being called for dinner right now, and so I must end the session. Sorry that this time was only 1/3 the length of my first two, each of which were nearly 3 hours. This was a good set. Thanks for your persistent interest in my work and for your energy to spread the love of science literacy. Signing off. -Neil deGrasse Tyson, New York City

This interview was transcribed from an "ask me anything" question and answer session with Neil deGrasse Tyson conducted on Reddit on 2012-02-29. The Reddit AMA can be found here.