Almost every seat the Academy of Music in Philadelphia on Wednesday night was filled with mostly science aficionados who understood all of the jokes told by famed astrophysicist Mr. Neil deGrasse Tyson – the audience even laughed when the star of the show said “Pluto.” Mr. Tyson, whose comical and nerdish image has earned him the privilege of being known as ‘The Country’s Most Beloved Science Teacher,’ was in town for one-night-only as part of his tour, ‘An Astrophysicist Goes to the Movies,’ a content-rich, educational and multi-media experience that blends a stand-up comedy act with a jargoned lecture not meant for laymen.
Have you ever watched a movie with a (professional) actor who points out all the scenes where the Director paid no attention to detail? ‘An Astrophysicist Goes to the Movies,’ which has been touring for more than a year, is sort of like that, except there’s humor with the punditry, which drowns out any perceived pretention. Mr. Tyson’s performance is rather simple in logistics: show multiple clips of movies where science is mentioned, like ‘Armageddon,’ ‘Back to the Future’ and ‘Star Wars’ – “There is no accurate science in Star Wars,” he said – and elaborate on what the filmmakers got right and/or wrong.
For example, in ‘Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country,’ and in Disney’s ‘A Bugs Life,’ the directors portrayed the surface tension of liquid, which makes it ball up in small volumes, correctly.
“Star Trek knew the physics… they got the Klingon blood correct,” Mr. Tyson, who serves as the Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York City, said Wednesday.
However, in ‘Armageddon,’ where an asteroid the size of Texas was headed to Earth but wasn’t noticed immediately by observers, the only true statement made in the movie was “it’s a big ass sky!” – Mr. Tyson asserted that an asteroid the size of Texas would’ve been noticed 200 years ago.
The humor lasted throughout the evening, though it did take a pause when discussing an issue that is, to many people in the scientific community, no laughing matter. Climate change, a largely human-induced phenomenon that some citizens still deny – Mr. Donald Trump, the president-elect, has stated that climate change is a hoax – was made a talking point when Mr. Tyson while on stage dialed on the phone his colleague, Mr. Bill Nye (the science guy), who issued a call to action.
“Climate Change is the biggest challenge we face,” Mr. Nye, who suggested that now is the time to find life on another planet, said, adding that we all have been born at a time where humans have to address climate change.
Philadelphia Mayor Mr. Jim Kenney, a day prior to Mr. Nye’s urging of Philadelphians, joined 36 of his counterparts across the country in sending a letter to Mr. Trump which described the effects of climate change as a “clear and present danger to American interests at home and abroad.” The communication went on to call for the President-elect to provide federal funding for existing (local) initiatives that are intended to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change.
Mr. Trump hasn’t been kind to the scientific community, which could explain why the crowd erupted in cheers Wednesday night when an audience member shouted: “Tyson 2020!”
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