Neil deGrasse Tyson

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Neil deGrasse Tyson
Tyson - Apollo 40th anniversary 2009.jpg
Tyson hosting the 40th anniversary celebration of Apollo 11 at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, July 2009
Born(1958-10-05) October 5, 1958 (age 55)
Manhattan, New York City, United States[1]
ResidenceManhattan, New York City, United States
FieldsAstrophysics, physical cosmology, science communication
InstitutionsHayden Planetarium, PBS, Planetary Society
Alma materHarvard University (A.B.)
University of Texas at Austin (M.A.)
Columbia University (M.Phil., Ph.D.)
InfluencesIsaac Newton, Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, Albert Einstein
Notable awardsNASA Distinguished Public Service Medal
Klopsteg Memorial Award (2007)
SpouseAlice Young
(1988–present; 2 children)
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Neil deGrasse Tyson
Tyson - Apollo 40th anniversary 2009.jpg
Tyson hosting the 40th anniversary celebration of Apollo 11 at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, July 2009
Born(1958-10-05) October 5, 1958 (age 55)
Manhattan, New York City, United States[1]
ResidenceManhattan, New York City, United States
FieldsAstrophysics, physical cosmology, science communication
InstitutionsHayden Planetarium, PBS, Planetary Society
Alma materHarvard University (A.B.)
University of Texas at Austin (M.A.)
Columbia University (M.Phil., Ph.D.)
InfluencesIsaac Newton, Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, Albert Einstein
Notable awardsNASA Distinguished Public Service Medal
Klopsteg Memorial Award (2007)
SpouseAlice Young
(1988–present; 2 children)

Neil deGrasse Tyson (/ˈnəl dəˈɡræs ˈtsən/; born October 5, 1958) is an American astrophysicist, author, and science communicator. He is currently the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space and a research associate in the department of astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History. From 2006 to 2011, he hosted the educational science television show NOVA ScienceNow on PBS and has been a frequent guest on The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and Real Time with Bill Maher. Since 2009, he has hosted the weekly radio show Star Talk. In 2014, Tyson hosted Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, an update to Carl Sagan's Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (1980) television series.[2]

Early life

Tyson was born as the second of three children in the borough of Manhattan in New York City and was raised in the Bronx.[1] His mother, Sunchita Marie (Feliciano) Tyson, was a gerontologist of Puerto Rican descent,[3] and his father, Cyril deGrasse Tyson, an African American, was a sociologist, human resource commissioner for New York City mayor John Lindsay, and the first Director of Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited.[4][5]

From kindergarten through high school Tyson attended public schools in New York City, all in the Bronx, which included PS 36, PS 81, Riverdale Kingsbridge Academy (MS 141), and The Bronx High School of Science (1972–76)[6] where he was captain of the wrestling team, and editor-in-chief of the school's Physical Science Journal. Tyson had an abiding interest in astronomy since he was nine years old, following his visit to Pennsylvania and seeing the stars, saying "it looks like the Hayden Planetarium".[7] He obsessively studied astronomy in his teens, and eventually even gained some fame in the astronomy community by giving lectures on the subject at the age of fifteen.[8] Tyson recalls that "so strong was that imprint [of the night sky] that I'm certain that I had no choice in the matter, that in fact, the universe called me."[7]

Astronomer Carl Sagan, who was a faculty member at Cornell University, tried to recruit Tyson to Cornell for undergraduate studies.[4] In an interview with writer Daniel Simone,[9] Tyson said:

Interestingly, when I applied to Cornell, my application dripped of my passion for the study and research of the Universe. Somehow the admissions office brought my application to the attention of the late Dr. Sagan, and he actually took the initiative and care to contact me. He was very inspirational and a most powerful influence. Dr. Sagan was as great as the universe, an effective mentor.

Tyson revisited this moment on his first episode of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. Pulling out a 1975 calendar belonging to the famous astronomer, he finds the day Sagan invited the 17-year-old to spend a day in Ithaca. Sagan had offered to put him up for the night if his bus back to the Bronx didn't come. Tyson said, "I already knew I wanted to become a scientist. But that afternoon, I learned from Carl the kind of person I wanted to become."[10][11]

Tyson chose to attend Harvard University, however, where he majored in physics and lived in Currier House. He was a member of the crew team during his freshman year, but returned to wrestling, eventually lettering in his senior year. In addition to wrestling and rowing in college, he was active in dance, in styles including jazz, ballet, Afro-Caribbean, and Latin Ballroom.[12] Tyson earned a Bachelor of Arts in physics from Harvard in 1980 and began his graduate work at the University of Texas at Austin; he was unable to complete his Ph.D. because his thesis committee voted to dissolve itself[13] and he received a Master of Arts in astronomy in 1983. In 1985, he won a gold medal with the University of Texas dance team at a national tournament in the International Latin Ballroom style. He was a lecturer at the University of Maryland from 1986-1987.[14]

In 1988, Tyson was accepted into the astronomy graduate program at Columbia University, where he earned a Master of Philosophy in astrophysics in 1989, and a Doctor of Philosophy in astrophysics in 1991[15] under the supervision of Professor R. Michael Rich (now at UCLA). Rich obtained funding to support Tyson's doctoral research from NASA and the ARCS foundation[16] enabling Tyson to attend international meetings in Italy, Switzerland, Chile, and South Africa[14] and to hire students to help him with data reduction.[17] In the course of his thesis work, he observed using the 0.91 m telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, where he obtained images for the Calán/Tololo Supernova Survey[18][19][20] helping to further their work in establishing Type Ia Supernovae as standard candles. These papers comprised part of the discovery papers of the use of Type Ia supernovae to measure distances, which led to the improved measurement of the Hubble constant[21] and discovery of dark energy in 1998.[22][23] He was 18th author on a paper with Brian Schmidt, a future winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics, in the study of the measurement of distances to Type II Supernovae and the Hubble constant.[24]

During his thesis work at Columbia University, Tyson became acquainted with Professor David Spergel at Princeton University, who visited Columbia University in the course of collaborating with his thesis advisor on the Galactic bulge.[25][26][27] Tyson was a postdoctoral research fellow at Princeton University from 1991 to 1994 and it was during this period that the project to renovate the Hayden Planetarium was conceived.


Tyson with students at the 2007 American Astronomical Society conference

Tyson's research has focused on observations in cosmology, stellar evolution, galactic astronomy, bulges, and stellar formation. He has held numerous positions at institutions including the University of Maryland, Princeton University, the American Museum of Natural History, and Hayden Planetarium.

Tyson has written a number of popular books on astronomy. In 1995, he began to write the "Universe" column for Natural History magazine. In a column he authored for a special, "City of Stars," edition of the magazine in 2002, Tyson popularized the term "Manhattanhenge" to describe the two days annually on which the evening sun aligns with the street grid in Manhattan, making the sunset visible along unobstructed side streets. He had coined the term in 1996, inspired by how the phenomenon recalls the sun's solstice alignment with the Stonehenge monument in England.[28] Tyson's column also influenced his work as a professor with The Great Courses.[29]

In 2001, US President George W. Bush appointed Tyson to serve on the Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace Industry and in 2004 to serve on the President's Commission on Implementation of United States Space Exploration Policy, the latter better known as the "Moon, Mars, and Beyond" commission. Soon afterward he was awarded the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal, the highest civilian honor bestowed by NASA.[30]

In 2004, he hosted the four-part Origins miniseries of PBS's Nova,[31] and, with Donald Goldsmith, co-authored the companion volume for this series, Origins: Fourteen Billion Years Of Cosmic Evolution.[32] He again collaborated with Goldsmith as the narrator on the documentary 400 Years of the Telescope, which premiered on PBS in April 2009.

Tyson in December 2011 at a conference marking 1,000 days after the launch of the spacecraft Kepler

As director of the Hayden Planetarium, Tyson bucked traditional thinking in order to keep Pluto from being referred to as the ninth planet in exhibits at the center. Tyson has explained that he wanted to look at commonalities between objects, grouping the terrestrial planets together, the gas giants together, and Pluto with like objects and to get away from simply counting the planets. He has stated on The Colbert Report, The Daily Show, and BBC Horizon that this decision has resulted in large amounts of hate mail, much of it from children.[33] In 2006, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) confirmed this assessment by changing Pluto to the dwarf planet classification. Daniel Simone wrote of the interview with Tyson describing his frustration. "For a while, we were not very popular here at the Hayden Planetarium."

Tyson recounted the heated online debate on the Cambridge Conference Network (CCNet), a "widely read, UK-based Internet chat group" following Benny Peiser's renewed call for reclassification of Pluto's status.[34] Peiser's entry, in which he posted articles from the AP and The Boston Globe, spawned from The New York Times's article entitled "Pluto's Not a Planet? Only in New York".[35][36]

Tyson has been vice president, president, and chairman of the board of the Planetary Society. He was also the host of the PBS program Nova ScienceNow until 2011.[37] He attended and was a speaker at the Beyond Belief: Science, Religion, Reason and Survival symposium in November 2006. In 2007, Tyson was chosen to be a regular on The History Channel's popular series The Universe.

Tyson promoting the Cosmos TV series in Australia for National Geographic, 2014

In May 2009, he launched a one-hour radio talk show called StarTalk, which he co-hosted with comedienne Lynne Koplitz. The show was syndicated on Sunday afternoons on KTLK AM in Los Angeles and WHFS in Washington DC. The show lasted for thirteen weeks, but was resurrected in December 2010 and then, co-hosted with comedians Chuck Nice and Leighann Lord instead of Koplitz. Guests range from colleagues in science to celebrities such as Gza, Wil Wheaton, Sarah Silverman, and Bill Maher. The show is also available via the internet through a live stream or in the form of a podcast.[38]

In April 2011, Tyson was the keynote speaker at the 93rd International Convention of the Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society of the Two-year School. He and James Randi delivered a lecture entitled Skepticism, which related directly with the convention's theme of The Democratization of Information: Power, Peril, and Promise.[39] In 2012, Tyson announced that he would appear in a YouTube series based on his radio show StarTalk. A premiere date for the show has not been announced, but it will be distributed on the Nerdist YouTube Channel.[40] On February 28, 2014, Tyson was a celebrity guest at the White House Student Film Festival.[41]


Tyson in conversation with Richard Dawkins at Howard University, September 2010

"[A] most important feature is the
analysis of the information that
comes your way. And that's what I
don't see enough of in this world.
There's a level of gullibility that
leaves people susceptible to being
taken advantage of. I see science
as kind of a vaccine against
charlatans who would try to exploit
your ignorance."

Neil deGrasse Tyson
from a transcript of an
interview by Roger Bingham
on The Science Network[42][43]


Tyson has written and broadcast extensively about his views of science, spirituality, and the spirituality of science including the essays, "The Perimeter of Ignorance"[44] and "Holy Wars",[45] both appearing in Natural History magazine and the 2006 Beyond Belief workshop.[46][47]

Tyson has argued that many great historical scientists' belief in intelligent design limited their scientific inquiries, to the detriment of the advance of scientific knowledge.[45][48][49]

Tyson has collaborated with evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and presented talks with him on religion and science.[50] When asked if he believed in a higher power, Tyson responded:

Every account of a higher power that I've seen described, of all religions that I've seen, include many statements with regard to the benevolence of that power. When I look at the universe and all the ways the universe wants to kill us, I find it hard to reconcile that with statements of beneficence.[51]

In an interview with Big Think, Tyson said, "So what people are really after is my stance on religion or spirituality or God, and I would say if I had to find a word that came closest, I would say agnostic... at the end of the day I'd rather not be any category at all."[52] During the interview "Called by the Universe: A conversation with Neil deGrasse Tyson" in 2009, Tyson said: "I can't agree to the claims by atheists that I'm one of that community. I don't have the time, energy, interest of conducting myself that way... I'm not trying to convert people. I don't care."[53]

In March 2014, philosopher and secularism proponent Massimo Pigliucci asked Tyson "What is it you think about God?” Tyson replied "I remain unconvinced by any claims anyone has ever made about the existence or the power of a divine force operating in the universe." Pigliucci asked him why then did he express discomfort with the label "atheist" in his Big Think video. Tyson replied by reiterating his dislike for one-word labels, saying "That's what adjectives are for. What kind of atheist are you? Are you an ardent atheist? Are you a passive atheist? An apathetic atheist? Do you rally, or do you just not even care? So I'd be on the 'I really don't care' side of that, if you had to find adjectives to put in front of the word 'atheist.'" Pigliucci contrasted Tyson with scientist Richard Dawkins: "[Dawkins] really does consider, at this point, himself to be an atheist activist. You very clearly made the point that you are not." Tyson replied: "I completely respect that activity. He's fulfilling a really important role out there." [54]

Race and social justice

In an undated interview at Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Tyson talked about being an African American and one of the most visible and well known scientists in the world. He told a story about being interviewed about a plasma burst from the sun on a local Fox News affiliate in 1989. “I'd never before in my life seen an interview with a black person on television for expertise that had nothing to do with being black. And at that point, I realized that one of the last stereotypes that prevailed among people who carry stereotypes is that, sort of, black people are somehow dumb. I wondered, maybe ... that's a way to undermine this sort of, this stereotype that prevailed about who's smart and who's dumb. I said to myself, 'I just have to be visible, or others like me, in that situation.' That would have a greater force on society than anything else I could imagine."[55]

In 2005, at a conference at the National Academy of Sciences, Tyson responded to a question about whether genetic differences might keep women from working as scientists. He said that his goal to become an astrophysicist was “hands down the path of most resistance through the forces … of society.” He continued: "My life experience tells me, when you don’t find blacks in the sciences, when you don’t find women in the sciences, I know these forces are real and I had to survive them in order to get where I am today. So before we start talking about genetic differences, you gotta come up with a system where there’s equal opportunity. Then we can start having that conversation.”[56]

In a 2014 interview with Grantland, Tyson said that he related his experience on that 2005 panel in an effort to make the point that the scientific question about genetic differences can't be answered until the social barriers are dismantled. "I’m saying before you even have that conversation, you have to be really sure that access to opportunity has been level."

In that same interview, Tyson said that race it is not a part of the point he is trying to make in his career or with his life. "... that then becomes the point of people’s understanding of me, rather than the astrophysics. So it’s a failed educational step for that to be the case. If you end up being distracted by that and not [getting] the message." He purposefully no longer speaks publicly about race. "I don’t give talks on it. I don’t even give Black History Month talks. I decline every single one of them. In fact, since 1993, I’ve declined every interview that has my being black as a premise of the interview."[57]

Tyson with Bill Nye and U.S. President Barack Obama in the White House, 2014


Tyson is an advocate for expanding the operations of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Arguing that "the most powerful agency on the dreams of a nation is currently underfunded to do what it needs to be doing".[58] Tyson has suggested that the general public has a tendency to overestimate how much revenue is allocated to the space agency. At a March 2010 address, referencing the proportion of tax revenue spent on NASA, he stated, "By the way, how much does NASA cost? It's a half a penny on the dollar. Did you know that? The people are saying, 'Why are we spending money up there...' I ask them, 'How much do you think we're spending?' They say 'five cents, ten cents on a dollar.' It's a half a penny."[58]

In March 2012, Tyson testified before the United States Senate Science Committee, stating that:

Right now, NASA's annual budget is half a penny on your tax dollar. For twice that—a penny on a dollar—we can transform the country from a sullen, dispirited nation, weary of economic struggle, to one where it has reclaimed its 20th century birthright to dream of tomorrow.[59][60]

Inspired by Tyson's advocacy and remarks, Penny4NASA, a campaign of the Space Advocates nonprofit,[61] was founded in 2012 by John Zeller and advocates the doubling of NASA's budget to one percent of the Federal Budget.[62]

Animal rights

Tyson collaborated with the organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) on a public service announcement that stated, "You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that kindness is a virtue."[63] He also granted PETA an interview in which he discussed the concept of intelligence (both of human and other animals), the failure of humans to heretofore communicate meaningfully with other animals, and the need of humans to be empathetic.[64]

Media appearances

Neil deGrasse Tyson was keynote speaker at TAM6 of the JREF.

As a science communicator, Tyson regularly appears on television, radio, and various other media outlets. He has been a regular guest on The Colbert Report, and host Stephen Colbert refers to him in his comedic book I Am America (And So Can You!), noting in his chapter on scientists that most scientists are "decent, well-intentioned people", but, presumably tongue-in-cheek, that "Neil DeGrasse [sic] Tyson is an absolute monster."[65] He has appeared numerous times on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. He also has made appearances on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and The Rachel Maddow Show.[66] He served as one of the central interviewees on the various episodes of the History Channel science program, The Universe. Tyson participated on the NPR radio quiz program Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! in 2007.[67] He has appeared several times on Real Time with Bill Maher, and he was also featured on an episode of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? as the ask-the-expert lifeline.[68] Tyson has also spoken many times on Philadelphia morning show Preston and Steve on 93.3 WMMR, as well as on SiriusXM's Ron and Fez.

Tyson has been featured as a guest interviewee on The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, Radiolab, Skepticality, and The Joe Rogan Experience podcasts and has been in several of the Symphony of Science videos.[69][70]

Tyson lived near the World Trade Center and was an eyewitness to the September 11, 2001 attacks. He wrote a widely circulated letter on what he saw.[71] Footage he filmed on the day was included in the 2008 documentary film 102 Minutes That Changed America.[72]

In 2007, Tyson was the keynote speaker during the dedication ceremony of Deerfield Academy's new science center, the Koch Center. He emphasized the impact science will have on the twenty-first century, as well as explaining that investments into science may be costly, but their returns in the form of knowledge gained and piquing interest is invaluable. Tyson has also appeared as the keynote speaker at The Amazing Meeting, a science and skepticism conference hosted by the James Randi Educational Foundation.[73]

Tyson made a guest appearance as himself in the episode "Brain Storm" of Stargate Atlantis[74] alongside Bill Nye and in the episode "The Apology Insufficiency" of The Big Bang Theory.[75] Archive footage of him is used in the film Europa Report.

2010 Space Conference group portrait: Tyson with fellow television personality and science educator Bill Nye.

Tyson is also a frequent participant in the website Reddit's AMAs (Ask Me Anythings) where he is responsible for three of the top ten most popular AMAs of all time.[76]

Tyson also made an appearance in an episode of Martha Speaks as himself.[77]

In Action Comics #14 (January 2013), which was published November 7, 2012, Tyson appears in the story, in which he determines that Superman's home planet, Krypton, orbited the red dwarf LHS 2520 in the constellation Corvus 27.1 lightyears from Earth. Tyson assisted DC Comics in selecting a real-life star that would be an appropriate parent star to Krypton, and picked Corvus, which is Latin for "Crow",[78][79] and which is the mascot of Superman's high school, the Smallville Crows.[80][81]

In May 2013, the Science Laureates of the United States Act of 2013 (H.R. 1891; 113th Congress) was introduced into Congress. Neil deGrasse Tyson was listed by at least two commentators as a possible nominee for the position of Science Laureate, if the act were to pass.[82][83]

In a May 2011 StarTalk Radio show entitled The Political Science of the Daily Show, Tyson notes that he donates all income earned as a guest speaker.[84]

On March 8, 2014, Tyson made a SXSW Interactive keynote presentation at the Austin Convention Center.[85]

Personal life

Tyson lives in Lower Manhattan with his wife Alice Young. They have two children: Miranda and Travis.[86][87] Tyson met his wife in a physics class at the University of Texas at Austin. They married in 1988 and named their first child Miranda after the smallest of Uranus' five major moons.[88] Tyson is a fine-wine enthusiast whose collection was featured in the May 2000 issue of the Wine Spectator and the Spring 2005 issue The World of Fine Wine.

Awards and honors


Honorary doctorates



List of works by Tyson:[94]

Research publications


Signing a copy of his book Origins, JREF's The Amazing Meeting 6



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  18. ^ Wells, L. A.; et al. (1994). "The Type IA supernova 1989B in NGC 3627 (M66)". The Astronomical Journal 108 (6): 2233. Bibcode:1994AJ....108.2233W. doi:10.1086/117236. 
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External links