T he director of the Hayden Planetarium and host of the PBS series Nova ScienceNow, Neil deGrasse Tyson has some real New Year’s predictions for us. In Death by Black Hole, a collection of essays out in January, Tyson forecasts the end of the world and makes the case for building a standby army of “deflector ships” to deter our biggest threat: a monster asteroid. The next near-miss is April 13, 2029 (a Friday). He spoke to Geoffrey Gray.
Any predictions for the next year?
We’ll find even more evidence for liquid water on Mars. It will provide tantalizing circumstances for the possibility of life elsewhere. And I don’t mean little green men.
Do you think we’ll be going back to the moon?
We’re certainly going back. China now has a space program. India is talking about it. If we have a government that sees this as a new space race, everything is in place for us to return.
How long will it take?
If you mean people living there, I would say within fifteen years. Geologists searching, people preparing for a landing on Mars.
What’s the weather like on the moon?
There’s no air, so there’s no weather. If you’re on the side that’s facing the sun, it’s a couple of hundred degrees Fahrenheit. If you’re on the side that’s facing away from the sun, it’s 100 degrees below zero. The only place you can kind of hang out is the boundary between where it’s lit and where it’s dark. Even then you have to turn like you’re on a rotisserie.
From those Mayan-calendar obsessives to fans of the Left Behindbooks, there’s a lot of talk about the end of the world these days.
They’re not credible prognostications.
If nuclear-armed zealots don’t blow us up, how will the world end? I would say our planet orbit goes unstable because another star flies a little too close to us. Then we lose track of whose gravity we’re attracted to. And then we lose our host star and plunge into eternal frozen darkness.
Which did you prefer: Armageddon or Deep Impact?
Oh, Deep Impact. Armageddon had better one-liners, but the science was an abomination.
Is there any way to spare ourselves from impending doom?
Having a healthy space program that’s ready to go on a moment’s notice is kind of a useful setup. It’s not good enough to say, “Here it comes, kiss your ass good-bye.” It’s okay to say, “Here it comes, bring out the deflector ship.”