When it comes to "callings" we usually think of people who feel drawn to religious career paths. But if you ask Neil deGrasse Tyson how he became an astrophysicist he says: "I think the universe called me. I feel like I had no say in the matter."
Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Museum of Natural History in New York, is a prolific writer and frequently cited authority on astronomy in the popular media. He's hosted a four-part series on Nova and appeared everywhere from The Tonight Show to The Daily Show to Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me!
This spring, Tyson hosts a new TV series called Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey. It's an update of the influential 1980 PBS series Cosmos: A Personal Journey. Tyson was entering graduate school in astrophysics at the time and remembers watching Carl Sagan host the original Cosmos.
It was "proof that a scientist can communicate with the public in a manner that was very different from a professor in front of a classroom or pontificating from up on high," Tyson tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies. "His style was very conversational and fireside-chatty. There he was on the screen, but he was really with you in the living room."
Tyson worked with Ann Druyan, Sagan's widow, in developing the new series, which debuts March 9 and 10 on Fox and the National Geographic Channel.
If you are one of those people who don't like thinking about astronomy because it makes them feel small, Tyson suggests looking at it a different way: "Our molecules are traceable to stars that exploded and spread these elements across the galaxy," he explains. If you "see the universe as something you participate in — as this great unfolding of a cosmic story — that, I think should make you feel large, not small. ... Any astrophysicist does not feel small looking up in the universe; we feel large."
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