Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. The man holds at least seventeen honorary doctorates in addition to his real one; we're dealing with a badass over here. Now, eleven of our favorite NDT quotes.
1. ON SCIENCE
"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it." From Real Time with Bill Maher.
2. ON NASA FUNDING
"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." From Space Chronicles, p. 25.
3. ON GOD AND HURRICANES
"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes.... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms." From Death by Black Hole, p. 361.
4. ON THE BENEFITS OF TECHNOLOGY INVENTED FOR USE IN SPACE
On the benefits of technology invented for use in space: "... Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.) From Space Chronicles, p. 24.
5. ON THE DEMOTION OF PLUTO FROM PLANET STATUS
"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'" From The Sky Is Not the Limit, Kindle locations 1537-1540.
6. ON THE CLIMAX OF THE MOVIE "TITANIC"
"In the movie, the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?" From Death by Black Hole, p. 330.
7. ON DEATH BY ASTEROID
"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death." From Space Chronicles, p. 53.
8. ON THE MOTIVATIONS BEHIND AMERICA'S MOONSHOT
"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do." From The Sky Is Not the Limit, p. 70.
9. ON WHO NAMED THE STARS
"After the 9/11 attacks, when President George W. Bush, in a speech aimed at distinguishing the U.S. from the Muslim fundamentalists, said, 'Our God is the God who named the stars.' The problem is two-thirds of all the stars that have names, have Arabic names. I don't think he knew this. This would confound the point that he was making." From The Amazing Meeting Keynote Speech, 2008.
10. ON 2012 APOCALYPSE PREDICTIONS
On 2012 apocalypse predictions: "There's no greater sign of the failure of the American educational system than the extent to which Americans are distracted by the possibility that Earth might end on December 21, 2012. It's a profound absence of awareness of the laws of physics and how nature works. So they're missing some science classes in their training in high school or in college that would empower [them] to understand and to judge when someone else is basically just full of it. Science is like an inoculation against charlatans who would have you believe whatever it is they tell you." On Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, June 24, 2009.
11. PRACTICAL ADVICE IN THE EVENT OF ALIEN CONTACT
Practical advice in the event of alien contact: "[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader." From Death by Black Hole, p. 107.
I included citations for each quote because I prefer research to reassurance, and want to give you primary sources for this stuff -- and our man NDT has been intentionally misquoted before. Check out his books and movies and audiobooks for top-notch science content. And stay tuned for his Cosmos sequel.
All photos courtesy of iStock (unless otherwise noted)