The Boyfriend of the Week

Neil Degrasse Tyson picture Neil Degrasse Tyson picture

July 31, 2013 [comment on this write-up]

If you don't recognize this week's Boyfriend of the Week, then you're not nearly as nerdy as you have made yourselves out to be, readership. I mean, honestly. How could anyone, in this day and age, not recognize Neil deGrasse Tyson? The most entertaining astrophysicist of all time?

Well, okay, maybe not of ALL time -- I hear Tycho Brahe was quite the joker. There was that one time when he found that supernova near Cassiopeia and he was all, "Supernova! I hardly know'a!" (it's funnier in Danish, I swear).

But still, most entertaining or not, the man is the current reigning king of space knowledge, and you don't have to be an astro-nerd to appreciate him, either. Ever since that whole Pluto thing a few years back (more on this later), he's been showing up more and more all over the place. He started out with appearances on The Daily Show or Colbert Report, where he was summarily and hilariously given hell for his treatment of the littlest planet (and took it marvelously in stride, of course). And then he landed a gig as the narrator of Nova ScienceNow, where he not only talked about how we might be able to make it to Mars, but also addressed a myriad of other eclectic subjects, like picky eaters, sea lions, autism, and the mystery of the Gakkel Ridge, which, it turns out, is this amazing world buried deep beneath Arctic sea ice. This is the kind of stuff Neil deGrasse Tyson knows about. He knows about secret worlds buried under ice. And not just because he's seen Alien Vs. Predator, either.

What makes Neil deGrasse Tyson so wonderful, though (and, sorry, I have a hard time calling him anything other than his full name -- it's just so mellifluous), is that not only can he speak knowledgeably about all these subjects, but he absolutely LOVES DOING IT. He loves to talk about science! And he especially loves to talk about science with people who don't know much about science -- he's incredibly good at bringing science to a level almost everybody can understand, with the added bonus of being funny while he's at it.

For example (from a tweet): "In 5 billion years, the sun will expand and engulf our orbit as the charred ember that was once Earth vaporizes. Have a nice day!"

See: hilarious! And what's even better is that he laughs at his own jokes (we have this in common, delightfully), as well as at just about everything else. The man even laughs -- loudly and often! -- when he's talking seriously about science, and not because serious science is inherently funny (it's not, it's SERIOUS), but because it brings him so much joy. I mean, he'll be talking about Mars, for example, and get so excited about the possibilities that he starts guffawing with stupendous amazement and glee. No matter how many times he's talked about a subject, you can tell it still blows his mind how utterly awesome whatever it is -- everything from dinosaur plagues to the hunt for alien Earths. Everything about science impresses and amazes Neil deGrasse Tyson. And this, more than anything else, makes him an absolute pleasure to have around.

Speaking of aliens (wait, weren't we? Aren't we always?), one of the other things I love about Neil deGrasse Tyson is that he can simultaneously insult the human race AND make us feel all the safer for being the idiots we are. For example, Neil recently said, in a video interview with Business Insider, that it's entirely possible we Earthlings have already been observed by alien races, and that they regarded us in the same sort of way we regard worms, which is to say: not at all. (Not counting those of you who think worms are super-cool and/or good with ketchup.) Sort of insulting, right? But here's the good part, Neil seems to believe the aliens' resultant determination that there was "no intelligent life down here" led to them simply fly away. Ha ha! So cute! So optimistic! Don't you feel better now?

I mean, unless you're a sci-fi movie watcher like me, in which case this brings you little comfort, as you already know such a situation is FAR more likely to go like this:

So, we've learned a little something else about Neil deGrasse Tyson, which is that he's an optimist. We've also learned a little something else about ME, which is that I am neither an optimist nor an artist, and I watch too much TV. (We may have known that last bit already.)

Okay. Now that I've established that Neil deGrasse Tyson is a happy, funny, adorable nerd, let's tuck that knowledge safely under our (asteroid) belts for the moment. Because it's time for me to broach the delicate subject so many of you have been waiting for me to broach. Keep in mind: happy, funny, adorable. He's NICE. You shouldn't hate nice people.

Even when: PLUTO.

Neil is frequently cited as the astrophysicist who knocked Pluto right outta the sky (metaphor). He's so often cited as the astrophysicist who knocked Pluto right outta the sky (metaphor), in fact, that he has received hate mail from hundreds of people, many of them schoolchildren, who were really, REALLY upset about this move. I understand, and I sympathize, to some extent. If nothing else, this reclassification of Pluto has royally screwed up all the planetary mnemonics we learned in elementary school ("My Very Energetic Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas" is now "My Very Energetic Mother Just Served Us Nine," which lends itself to all kinds of somewhat unnerving interpretations.)

However, there are a few points that deserve repeating in this regard.

The first is that, as Tyson himself says, he wasn't actually the one who "killed Pluto," he just "drove the getaway car." The actual killer of Pluto, if you must describe it that way, was astronomer Mike Brown at Caltech. Not only did Brown downgrade the much-beloved-by-schoolchildren planet to "dwarf" status, but he has the nerve to go around boasting about it. He even uses the Twitter handle @plutokiller. So, what I'm saying is: you wanna get mad, you get mad at THAT guy. Jerk.

The other point that deserves repeating, though, is: Dudes, it's just PLUTO, my god! You'd think Brown and Tyson tied a kitten to a rocket and sent it flying into the thermosphere or something. We can let this one go now. Just let it go. I mean, honestly, this is the kind of thing that riles up people who've got nothing better to be riled up about.

You know, like schoolchildren.

That said, I do confess I really want one of these tee-shirts:

In any case: Neil deGrasse Tyson, ladies and gentlemen! If you aren't already following him on Twitter or Facebook, you should start doing that immediately, by the way, because he's loaded with gems like this one: "With automatic spell checkers running unleashed over what we compose, our era is that of correctly spelled typos." And this one: "If you removed all the arteries, veins, and capillaries from a person's body and tied them end-to-end. . . that person would die."

And this one. . . oh hell, go read this list. He's awesome!

Apparent Magnitude: 93.398.

You know what that is over there? That's a picture of Neil deGrasse Tyson posing with a rocket AND a telescope. I die happy.

p.s. "My Very Elementary Mnemonic Just Sank Under Nitpicking." You're welcome.

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Boyfriend-Related Links

NdT's page at the Hayden Planetarium
NdT's Wikipedia page
NOVA scienceNow episodes
NdT on The Daily Show
NdT on Colbert Report
14 Things We Can All Appreciate about NdT (Buzzfeed)

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