He’s one of the most famous astrophysicists in the world.
You may recognise him from television shows like The Simpsons and The Big Bang Theory, and films like Zoolander 2.
Neil deGrasse Tyson has been explaining space to the world for decades and now he’s joined Lateline to answer your questions about the galaxy, life on other planets and the politics of climate change.
How do we band together to save ourselves in a world of misinformation, disagreement and plain disregard, without undermining democracy?
“I think the internet landed in our lap and we all celebrated the access to information, but I don’t think we foresaw what are the consequences of it. That is with brilliant search engines, you can have an idea, however fringy it is, type it into the search engine and you will find every other person in the world who has exactly that same idea, giving you false affirmation of it being true,” Dr Tyson said.
“So what we need is a tandem way in the educational system to inoculate us against being distracted by false information that’s out there.
“This should be a fundamental part of what it is to be educated, being able to judge what is true and what is not. And by the way — science literacy may be the best kind of inoculation against that because it trains you.
“Science literacy is a capacity to know how to think about information and how to turn data into information, information into knowledge, and then knowledge perhaps into wisdom.
“That is an arc of science literacy. Without that, there’s a free-for-all of information. No-one wants to constrain the internet, we like to keep our freedoms but we want to be informed as we are bathed in our freedoms, otherwise we would not be good shepherds of it.”
The majority of the people on this planet believe the Earth is still a globe. I recently encountered someone who believes it’s flat. It’s created by NASA as a conspiracy and a cover-up. My question is why do these people exist? And can you please show them some light?
“In a free country, let them think Earth is flat. I’m not going to chase down people,” Dr Tyson said.
“But the danger would come about or the problems would arise if that person runs for office, rises to power, and then decides to become head of a space agency.
“A quick thing about the flat Earth, during a lunar eclipse, where the sun casts Earth’s shadow on the surface of the Moon, you would have some lunar eclipses where the shadow would be a flat line. That has never happened.”
If matter and anti-matter are produced at equal rates at the beginning of the universe, could they still exist today? And if so what sort of effect could they have on our current universe?
“All matter would have had an anti-matter counterpart, but what happens is we know that matter and anti-matter, when they get together they annihilate and they make energy. In this case it makes photons of light,” Dr Tyson said.
“What’s interesting is how come there’s still matter left over? Well, there’s not much matter compared to how much matter plus anti-matter there used to be, there’s just a little bit left. It’s what we call a breaking of the symmetry in the universe, which is not well understood but we know it happened.
“That symmetry breaking made slightly more matter than anti-matter particles. That slight extra is what was left over after everyone paired up at the dance party.
“You pair off everybody and it looks like it’s about 50/50. Everyone pairs off and what you see is those who remain, who were slightly more matter than anti-matter, and that constitutes all the matter that we know in the universe.
“So, no, the anti-matter manifest in the form of light. Photons coursing through the universe, that is the leftovers of what was once matter annihilating with anti-matter.”
Just wondering, do you think that we are alone in the milky way galaxy or could there be other life?
“Often when people ask that, they wonder if there’s other intelligent life or other sort of macroscopically interesting life, but to a biologist if you find a microbe somewhere else, we’re not alone,” Dr Tyson said.
“There’s other life somewhere else in the universe, certainly in the galaxy.
“So right now we have 3,000 exo-planets orbiting other stars that could be repositories of life as we know it, or even better, life as we don’t know it.
“All studies of the universe, all the molecules and their presence across the galaxy, the frequency of planets tells us it would be inexcusably ego-centric to think that we are alone in the universe.”