My week of exciting activities – Monday: StarTalk with Neil deGrasse Tyson.

It just so happens that this week I have things planned for the evenings of Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and possibly Saturday. On Monday I went to the Town Hall in midtown Manhattan to see StarTalk with Neil deGrasse Tyson.


I have never listened to Neil’s podcast, so I was totally ready for whatever when I got there. He has Eugene Mirman the comedian co-host the show regularly. Neil brought on two guests – Brian Greene, the theoretical physicist and string theorist, and Michael Massimino, an astronaut who went into space twice, both times to do repairs on the Hubble Telescope. Eugene brought fellow comedian Michael Ian Black who’s been in a gazillion things. The topic of this episode of StarTalk was gravity, both the movie that just came out and, you know, the stuff that keeps you on the crust of the earth. I had a lot of problems with this because there’s very few things in nature that make my skin get all icy and leave*, and one of those things is outer space. I can’t even watch the trailers for the movie Gravity. You can fall! In any direction! Forever! Complete darkness! No oxygen! So cold! So alone! It just freaks me out down to my core. You want to know my idea of a horror movie? WALL•E. The scene where WALL•E propels himself through space with the fire extinguisher? Nightmare fuel for me. So the two hours of the show was a bit of a struggle for me to get through without curling up a ball, wrapping my coat around my head and moaning, but I made it. Neil talked about several things that bothered him about the movie Gravity. Number one: Sandra Bullock played a medical doctor sent to space to fix a gigantic space machine. Michael Ian Black’s response: “Neil, the Hubble Telescope was sick.” Michael the Astronaut did say that all the tools they used in the film were completely accurate. The space repairmen use really similar tools to what we use here, but they have those big gloves on and therefore they cannot be as dextrous, so the tools are slightly different. And we got the stamp of authenticity on the tools from a real space-tool-knowledge-haver, so that’s good.

This was a cool demonstration. Neil talked about a scene in the movie where Sandra Bullock was running out of oxygen and she had to let go of George Clooney and when she released the tether holding them together he flew backwards away. Or maybe she was the one who flew backwards away. I haven’t seen the film. Whatever, someone released a tether and someone flew backwards away. Neil brought out a dolly, the kind one uses to move furniture, and he made Brian Greene sit on it so his feet were off the floor. Neil handed him one end of a rope and he walked to the end of the length of the rope. And then Neil let go. And Brian didn’t move. Neil turned to us, the audience, and said, “THAT’S WHAT WOULD HAPPEN.” Since Ms. Bullock and Mr. Clooney weren’t on something spinning or moving rapidly and pulling on them, if they let go they would stay put. Nowhere near as dramatic as what happens in the film.

I learned so many things. I learned that Aristotle was the first guy to talk about gravity, but he thought that things will more mass fell faster. To demonstrate the incorrectness of this, Neil took off his boot and picked up a pen. Then he dropped them at the same time. They hit the stage at the same time. Neil then chastised Aristotle for not conducting that experiment, for if he had he would have known the correct answer. I learned that there was a Chinese satellite hanging out in orbit at 550 miles and the Chinese shot it out of existence for scientific reasons. We also had a satellite we wanted to destroy, but it was at 110 miles. We shot it out of existence as well. The difference is that all the debris from our satellite fell into our atmosphere and burned up and was gone. The Chinese satellite debris did not, now making it really difficult to send, like, another satellite into orbit at 550 miles. The new satellite is going to get battered with all the crap from the destroyed satellite. I had never thought of that. If we keep putting things into orbit and they explode or bonk into each other, that layer of orbits will be riddled with pointy things that can jack up our other scientific experiments. Neil mentioned something about nets, but I lost him around there. There was much talk about theoretical mathematical stuff that I simply could not grasp with my non-mathematical-oriented brain. At one point the discussion turned to black holes. I learned that if you are falling into a black hole, if someone is watching you from the outside it will appear that your gestures are slowing down, until you reach the event horizon which is what they call the rim of the black hole. To the person on the outside, it will have appeared that you have frozen. Meanwhile, everything will look normal to you, but the things around you will look sped up, so as you reach the event horizon you will see the future of the universe until the end of time. As Neil said, “You’ll notice you’ve fallen into a black hole right after you get pulled into the thickness of a piece of spaghetti. Then you’ll notice.”

The best thing I learned is that the qualities that makes a flame pointy is the hot air rising and sucking in more oxygen. In space, like in the space station, where there is both oxygen and a lack of gravity, the flame would be a ball. An orb of fire, if you will. And Neil commented that if aliens who were accustomed to a gravity-free environment came to earth, they would not understand why our chandelier candle-lights are shaped like that.

Long story short, I’m going to start listening to StarTalk if it’s a podcast. Is it a podcast? If it is, I will listen to it. And I developed crushes on all the scientists on the stage because goshdarnit I like me a smart man. And these men are SMART. Mmmmmmmm, intelligence.


*The other thing is when an insect lays eggs in another insect and then the camera zooms all up in there as the babies emerge from the host-beast. TOO MUCH. Blargh.

4 Responses to “My week of exciting activities – Monday: StarTalk with Neil deGrasse Tyson.”

  1. Gemma says:

    It is a podcast! It is delightful and I am super jealous you got to see him live! 🙂

  2. Rothbeastie says:

    It was a jolly good time. I’m sorry you missed it. However, when you listen to this podcast, you’ll know what Brian Greene was doing on the dolly.

  3. Samhambone says:

    Hey. I was there too. With you, in fact.

  4. Rothbeastie says:

    We’re not supposed to talk about it! Remember? We discussed this in front of the parking garage.

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