For anyone who was disappointed when Pluto got kicked out of the planet club, you might be interested to know that the reason for its declassification was standing on campus this week.

On Monday, April 23, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson spoke to a full house at the Fairfield University Quick Center for the Arts in a speech entitled “Cosmic Discovery (and what it takes to enable it).”

Aided by the projections behind him, Tyson used his time on stage to describe several aspects of the cosmos as well as why we should care about delving into space: “There has to be a system that supports it, that funds it, that cares about it, that cares about the fruits of those discoveries.”

Tyson is known for being a supporter of doubling the size of the federal budget for NASA, citing that it would reignite American innovation and quench the American “fear of science.”

As for Pluto, it would seem that size also matters. “Pluto had it coming,” said Tyson. “Our moon is five times the mass of Pluto. Nobody told you that, did they? You Pluto lovers out there.”

As one of the first scientists to publicly denounce Pluto as a planet, Tyson said, “I lost five years of my life dealing with the press and pissed-off fourth graders.” He shared two instances of “hate mail,” one from a fourth-grader and the other from a 72-year-old. “I have a filing cabinet of hate mail like this.”

In a further effort to make the audience consider the relativity of size, Tyson showed a picture taken of Saturn from the Cassini spacecraft.

What made this picture special, according to Tyson, was the eight-pixel speck next to Saturn, also known as Earth.

“Eight pixels. Deal with it,” said Tyson. Drawing on Carl Sagan’s sentiment that everyone you have ever known lived on this speck, Tyson said, “The hubris of human thought becomes laughable. That is the cosmic perspective.”

Introduced by Dr. Philip Eliasoph as the “rockstar of astrophysics, the king of cosmology,” Tyson has gained fame as an astrophysicist, the director of the Hayden Planetarium, and the previous host of “NOVA scienceNow” on PBS – just to name a few. He is even the subject of a widespread internet meme.

Junior Kevin Greener gave a formal introduction for Tyson and listed his accomplishments, ending the list with Tyson’s designation as People Magazine’s “Sexiest Astrophysicist Alive.”

“Consider the category,” Tyson responded. “I don’t know who I beat out – Stephen Hawking?”


Photo by Nick DiFazio/The Mirror

Tyson consistently used humor throughout his presentation, maintaining a cool demeanor and eliciting cyclical laughter from the audience. He even took off his shoes: “To me, the stage is … a sanctified place, so I take my shoes off.”

Just as Pluto’s actual size differed from what was previously thought, Tyson’s speech was much longer than expected.

“I got the notice that … we’re going to talk about the universe,” said Tyson. “They said, ‘Well, you have 45 minutes.’ And I’m thinking … didn’t you hear? It’s the universe.” Though his speech was slated to be under an hour followed by a discussion with faculty members, Tyson spoke for almost two hours before a brief Q&A session was held.

The crowd didn’t seem to mind. Though a considerable amount of people left before the Q&A section, the general reaction was one of enjoyment.

“I thought it was … scientifically comical,” Adrian Perkowski ‘16 said. “I loved it.”

“It was great,” said Antonio Pacheco ‘15. “He’s a really smart guy and I would love see more people like him come to Fairfield.”

Tyson left the audience with some food for thought: “The fact is we are in this universe, and the tracing of our chemical elements tells us … that the universe is in us. And that is the most profound realization of the cosmic perspective.”

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