'World is passing us by,' space expert tells UF crowd

Neil deGrasse Tyson speaks at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in Gainesville, Fla., on Wednesday, April 3, 2013.

Brett Le Blanc / The Gainesville Sun
Published: Wednesday, April 3, 2013 at 11:12 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 3, 2013 at 11:12 p.m.

The asteroids are coming — or not. But everyone should know what an asteroid crashing into the earth could mean — whether it's in Siberia, California or your own backyard.

"I've been telling people for 30 years to watch out for the asteroids," Neil deGrasse Tyson, renowned astrophysicist with 18 honorary degrees who currently directs the Hayden Planetarium in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, told a captivated audience at the Phillips Center on Wednesday night.

The astrophysicist, commonly known as a space expert, talked about asteroids as one subject in his "cosmic perspective" of the world that he shared with the packed crowd that included mostly University of Florida students. The event was sponsored by Accent Speakers Bureau.

"He puts a spark in people — to grow, to dream, to understand," said Cody Impton, a civil engineering junior at UF.

With asteroids on the public's mind since a meteor rattled Siberia in February, deGrasse Tyson explained that the meteor's impact was 25 times greater than the bomb that exploded in Hiroshima, and that it traveled at a speed of 40,000 miles per hour.

Although no one died, over 1,000 people were injured. deGrasse Tyson added, "When a scientist tells you that you could die from an asteroid, I think you should pay attention to that."

He also discussed the state of the world in terms of investments in scientific research.

Although the U.S., Japan and the EU currently comprise the world's biggest chunk of research investment — as the world's three wealthiest countries or groups of countries — the trend for investments is actually shrinking in the U.S.

Meanwhile, countries such as Brazil and China are ramping up their investments.

What does this mean for America?

"America has forgotten how to think," deGrasse Tyson said. "The world is passing us by."

He gave examples of recent disasters — from Hurricane Katrina to the collapse of a bridge in Minneapolis and a steam pipe explosion in New York City — all of which implicated faulty engineering.

And yet, other civilizations' creations have stood the test of time, he continued.

"The Roman aqueducts are still standing ... structures outlasted civilization for over 2,000 years."

Speaking to students in the audience, deGrasse Tyson said, "This is your tomorrow. You are in a position to create your tomorrow."

Coming of age in the 1960s, deGrasse Tyson said, "The country I grew up in dreamed."

"We went to the moon but ended up discovering earth for the very first time. That's what exploration is all about."

Correspondent Clare Lennon contributed to this report. Contact Kristine Crane at 338-3119 or kristine.crane@gvillesun.com.

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