Neil deGrasse Tyson talks Cosmos, multiverses, and going to Mars

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Mar 4, 2014

Why make a new version of Cosmos? Because, according to science icon Neil deGrasse Tyson, "just about everything" is different now.

This Sunday, the 13-part, Tyson-hosted documentary series Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey -- executive-produced by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane and Carl Sagan's widow and collaborator Ann Struyan, who also serves as co-creator -- will launch on Fox. It serves as a follow-up to the landmark PBS series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, hosted and co-written by Sagan, and will take an in-depth look at the parts of the cosmos that we just didn't know about yet in Sagan's day.

Among the biggest new discoveries the show will explore: exoplanets, and the idea that one of the hundreds of new potentially habitable worlds discovered in our universe could harbor life.

"That is a big question we all have: are we alone in the universe? And exoplanets confirm the suspicion that planets are not rare," Tyson said in a new interview with The Huffington Post. "Life as we know it lives on a planet. So if we are going to look for life as we know it, you want a good inventory of planets. There is a whole cottage industry of people trying to study the properties of the planets. It's very hard because they're orbiting next to hugely bright stars. The analogy is given--and if you calculate it out, it turns out to be about right--it would be like trying to detect a firefly around one of those Hollywood searchlights pointing straight at you."

Tyson was also happy to discuss the concept of the multiverse, and why science now looks at the idea that our reality isn't the only reality as a strong possibility. According to Tyson, quantum physics forms part of the basis for this way of thinking, but if you're not prepared to wrap your head around that, there's also a simple philosophical way to look at the idea that the multiverse could be a real thing.

"Philosophically, the universe has really never made things in ones," Tyson said. "The Earth is special and everything else is different? No, we've got seven other planets. The sun? No, the sun is one of those dots in the night sky. The Milky Way? No, it's one of a hundred billion galaxies. And the universe--maybe it's countless other universes."

Of course, no conversation about science and space would be complete without talking about the future of human space travel, and Tyson addressed both the idea of colonizing other planets as a whole and the idea of taking a one-way trip to Mars to set up a human settlement there. So, would he make that trip? Not if it's one-way.

"I don't see any point of a one-way trip," he said. "In the era of the great explorers, colonies were established in places where explorers had already put the place on the map--and were able to tell you, 'Yeah, there's air to breathe and fruit on the trees and bring this winter coat and here is a shovel and some hammers and nails, go at it. Oh, by the way, if it doesn't work out, come back.' That's different from saying here's a spaceship that is only designed to go one way and, by the way, when you get there there's no air or water. So make it a round trip. You stay as long as you want."

The new Cosmos series isn't just about far-out scientific concepts that will expand your understanding of our universe, though. For Tyson, it's also about shedding light on some of the world's great scientific minds, including those whose work was not easily accepted. Tyson promises to tell the story of those scientific struggles alongside his explorations of the big ideas in our universe.

"We tell the stories of scientists in different cultures and different eras whose life work was fought against by the culture or the governments that controlled their lives or by social mores that interfered with their exploration of the truth," Tyson said. "Some gave their lives for having found truth and in that world you learn that there are science martyrs. They're people who cared more about the truth than their own relationship to their homeland."

The full interview from Huffington Post is well worth your time, not just because it features more talk about Cosmos, but because it also includes Tyson's musings on religion, food, his other passions (he's a big Broadway fan) and more. Head over there and check it out. 

Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey premieres Sunday night at 9/8C on Fox, National Geographic, FX and other Fox-owned stations. 

(Via Huffington Post)

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