Tonight was a special night for me as I finally got to see Neil deGrasse Tyson live. This is the man who, along with the rest of the crew of T.V. show Cosmos, inspired the course correction in my life towards something much more profound. The energy I felt heading over to the Tobin Center was one of nervousness and excitement. I couldn’t wait to get there. My friend, Billy Michelson, had purchased the tickets for us nearly a year ago so I knew it was going to be the event of the season.
We arrived early to make sure we would get a good parking space and would have time to settle in before the show. As you can see, we weren’t the only ones that had this idea. Check out the crowd (and the special shout out here from the guy) and this is ONLY from the main room. There was a separate theater with a simulcast of the event so more people could watch it. The energy in the room was palpable and it was great to see so many people in their science shirts, showing off. It actually inspired me to start doing crowd photography at the next event so I can showcase them in pieces like this.
As the masses of fans flooded from the foyer into the auditorium, I was taken aback by the design of the building. The room is stunning. We quickly found our seats and found ourselves seated near a couple, the wife of which worked for local San Antonio Texas News station TPR.org. She told us all about how state-of-the-art the room is, having the ability to retract the floor and have different kinds of shows, even listing off some upcoming events. She also filled us in on a new series called ThinkScience geared specifically towards the rising interest for more science facts in the area. Click the link here to check out a video on robotics! They have more events coming soon, so make sure to bookmark the site and check back. It wasn’t long after we were seated before the lights started to dim and the show got underway.
The Man of the Hour (or 6)
The stage, showcasing a picture of a far-flung nebula in vibrant colors, set the backdrop for what would occur this evening. The host, a representative from NPR whose name I did not catch unfortunately, introduced Neil deGrasse Tyson in proper fashion, culminating in thunderous applause. Tyson’s effortless way, as if he’s talking to a room full of friends, is even more prominent in person. I couldn’t help but smile when Tyson announced the title of tonight’s lecture, An Astrophysicist Goes To The Movies, considering that film is one of my other passions. I knew we were in for a fun evening. He did mention that there was no way he could cover all the science in movies or else we would be there for 6 hours. The uproar from the captivated crowd made it obvious that no one in attendance was going to complain if the evening went that long. We were along for the ride.
The NDT Phenomenon
A quick note here. Considering how crisp and tight this two-hour-long speech was, he’s obviously out there showcasing this throughout the country. Keeping that in mind, while also indulging my want to pique your interest to see him live, I’ll just try to speak on some highlights here without ruining the experience. For the record, keeping it short is not my strong suit and I took oh so many notes that won’t be used other than for my own nostalgia sometime in the future. But I digress.
Neil refers to himself as being a bit of nitpicker throughout the evening, as he brings up example after example of things that only someone that has his cumulative knowledge on all things space would pick up on. The movies you would think nail science (like Gravity) messed up often. By the way, he says that just because he makes statements about whether the science in a movie is right or wrong, that it no way indicates how much he enjoyed said movie. He likes to inform people of the facts and let them decide on their own. This was one of the two dozen times or more that his speech gave way to applause so loud that it nearly drown him out entirely.
Later in the night during the Q&A, we found out his top calls for correct astrophysical science in movies. Those honors went to Contact and Deep Impact. The MOST fun parts of the show, however, were when he showcased the worst. And I can’t believe I can call this a surprise, Michael “EXPLOSIONS IN SLOW MOTION…now with CLEAVAGE!!” Bay’s own Armageddon took this crown. And he didn’t just keep the lecture to the science of space either. He gleefully roasted classics like the Wizard of Oz for its failings in having the Scarecrow say the correct Math equation at the end. “I’ve got a brain!,” the Scarecrow exclaims. “Uh, no you don’t,” Tyson fires back. Laughter ensued.
Another couple highlights of the night included his choice for a D.J name if he were ever to spin (M.C. Squared), how “A Bug’s Life” got surface tension right when the mosquito asked for a Bloody Mary and the blood wasn’t served in a glass, and the controversy his tweets can spark, such as the case with Gravity and his friendly feud over Cameron’s night sky in Titanic (fixed in the new edit!). These are just a few examples of the multitude of occasions where he broke out in dance and the crowd went crazy. You just can’t help but like this guy.
One of my personal favorite points of the night was when he started talking about The Martian, an amazing book about surviving on Mars by Andy Weir. I’ve been listening to it during my travels across the country and it’s freakin’ magic. Neil live tweets his favorite quote during the show. Andy Weir mentioned the tweet on his Facebook page (find it here) and I was able to share my story of how tweeted it live and how it was one of the highlights of the night. The crowd LOVED it. Even Tyson said he’d be there day one.
As the show began to wind down, I really had no idea how Tyson would finish it up. Then the slide “Pale Blue Dot” popped up. He mentioned Voyager taking a shot of Earth once it passed the last planet, Neptune. He paused for some heavy giggles before coyly injecting his now famous quip “Get over it!!”, which only intensified the audience’s laughter. As he showed us the new picture of the 2013 Pale Blue Dot, he had the lighting engineer lower the lights to their absolute minimum. And then….he recited the Pale Blue Dot speech perfectly. He even kept the same CADENCE as Carl did! Pale Blue Dot is arguably the most inspiring speech ever made in astrophysics and one I know almost by heart. Indeed, you can even hear me reciting it with Neil in the short clip below.
He ended his lecture and kicked off a Q&A, answering the burning questions of those in attendance. Cosmos 2? Almost finalized. Who would he bring back from the dead if he could? Newton, of course. The poor guy that asked this question didn’t even get to finish the question before Neil blurted out the name of the man that inspired his infamous “bad ass” meme years ago. He finished the evening by sharing a speech with us he was asked to write about in a similar way to the Gettysburg address. You’ll find a snippet below.
I 100% recommend going to see him, but remember that these shows sell out almost immediately, even when announced 8 months ahead of time. Head over to Neil’s website here for tickets to his solo events as well as StarTalk’s Twitter page for tickets to the live shows and more. If he’s coming to your town, you owe it to yourself to go enjoy the evening with the man who took over the mantle for Carl Sagan, Mr. Neil deGrasse Tyson. Cheers!