Between the Lines: Neil de Grasse Tyson

An astrophysicist is an astronomer—a scientist, if you will—who contemplates and studies the physical behavior, properties and dynamic processes of celestial objects. The objective of this cultivation is to learn and explain the phenomena attached to the universe as a whole and to its infinite variety of heavenly bodies.

So when an individual thinks of an astrophysicist, the mind sketches a thinly man in an ill-fitting, drabby suit, possibly puffing on a tobacco pipe and bearing an unanimated semblance devoid of a smile. Or, you may envision a lecturer whose demeanor has matured before his time; his voice is monotone and lulls his audience with boring lessons. Perhaps, he has a dozen strands of gray hair crossing his scalp from ear to ear and sports a polka-dot bow tie.

Dr. Neil de Grasse Tyson is an astrophysicist, but does not personify, in body and spirit, those stereotypical characteristics. He is a tall, athletic figure with a youthful appearance and attitude. The man’s attire is stylish and lively, as are his mannerisms and comportment. And unlike our Professor Doolittle, Dr. Tyson is a vivacious storyteller, sort of a modern day raconteur. He blends that trait with formidable knowledge and expertise in the physics of the universe, a combination with which he not only imparts facts and specifics about the cosmos, but, in an actorish, light-hearted manner, also narrates it with enthusiasm and conviction. This seemingly unrehearsed performance whirls a powerful attraction that engages the listener, even the type who may not be inclined to discover the wonders of celestial space. He speaks with a buoyant but calm energy and his body gestures compose its own language. In short, Dr. Tyson, a disciple of the late Carl Sagan, has vamped the astrophysics branch of astronomy to a most enthralling, if not enchanting, topic. Because of his devotion to that science, depending on one’s beliefs in the abstract, he could be the metaphysical reincarnation of the great Mr. Sagan.

This scientist is a prolific writer as well. He’s authored many books on the subject of his profession that, besides unveiling a richness of information relevant to the heavens, the pages project scenes of humorous entertaining. Dr. Tyson’s latest tome titled, The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet, recounts the demotion of that planet to an icy body and its removal from the roster of the remaining eight that orbit the sun. The theme of the book is a brave defense and justification of his theory that Pluto, well, simply did not qualify as a “real planet.” Pluto, America’s little darling since it had been discovered in the 1930s, does not forge the properties requisite of a full-grown “adult” planet. Neil deGrasse Tyson, though a compassionate friend of the runty straggler, was compelled to classify it as one of the trillions of boulders that loiter in the Asteroid Belt. Several years ago, when he publicized those findings, the conclusion astounded and irked the astronomy community. So much so that the highly held esteem for Dr. Tyson began to chill—quite ironically, like many of the galactic bodies he’s been studying for most of his adult life. Moreover, Pluto’s fans furiously rejected the concept and tried to strip the astrophysicist of his popularity, nearly sending him to a bunker for cover. Even elementary school children doused him with sacks of admonishing letters and vehement opposition.

Perhaps, he has a dozen strands of gray hair crossing his scalp from ear to ear and sports a polka-dot bow tie,

But it all ended well. Before expelling the beloved Pluto from the choir of planets that soar around the sun, Dr. Tyson had done his homework. He had gathered convincing information and logistics, and reasoned as to why he had brought Pluto down. At first, the rebelling fanatics would not hear of it, though in time the charismatic and patient astrophysicist prevailed. He put forth sufficient scientific and persuasive evidence that, eventually, the international planetary population re-analyzed the views of their contention and reached one option, which was to concur with him. The astronomers’ society then negotiated a compromise and officially declared Pluto a “Dwarf Planet.”

Finally, Dr. Tyson came out of his bunker, made amends with his followers, and recaptured his dissenters’ admiration. “It was a relief,” he sighed. “For a while, we at the Hayden Planetarium were not appreciated by Pluto’s pals.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson has written The Pluto Files in his usual eloquent fashion, which flows like honey from a jar. Certain passages of the narratives are hilariously captivating with exciting revelations that remind the reader of a favorite teacher teaching a favorite subject. To aid the imagination, the book is chock-full with illustrations that include the haranguing protests in support of Pluto from the half-pint devotees. Indeed, it reads like a magical, enchanting tale.

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson is a full-time astrophysicist, but doesn’t just dabble in writing, for he is a full-scale author, too. He’s written eleven books and contemporaneously raised a family. In addition to fulfilling his duties as the Director of the Hayden Planetarium, he inserts in his hectic schedule extra curricular activities, such as accepting invitations by presidents to serve on special White House committees. Notably, in 2001, President Bush invited him to chair a twelve-member panel. Its purpose was to study and recommend the budgeting allocations for the various divisions of the Aerospace Industry, a weighty and high priority task. With Dr. Tyson’s indispensable expertise—by way of practical and intelligent perspectives, as opposed to the usual politicians’ self-serving bantering—the committee’s conclusions prompted Congress to decide and commit the funding required for the continuance of space exploration, future air transportation and national security.

The assignment marked the astrophysicist’s first encounter with the customary jousting between democrats and republicans, a routine Washington event. Dr. Tyson overcame the political barriers by segregating the pollution of politics from the decisions that, because of their dogmatic procrastinations, the narrow-minded politicos, had suspended. That feat symbolizes another contribution to humanity by Neil deGrasse Tyson.

A paperback edition of The Pluto Files will appear in bookstores on or about November of 2009. Tyson also host the PBS series NovaScienceNow and the radio show Earthtalk.