By Chet Yarbrough
Narrated by Don Graham
“Death by Black Hole” is an exploration of the universe; i.e. how it was formed, where life comes from, whether life exists on other planets or in other universes, how the world might end, what a black hole in space is, and what would happen to the human body entering a black hole. Neil deGrasse Tyson, in writing “Death by Black Hole”, asks the public–can you hear me now?
Neil deGrasse Tyson has become a well-known Astrophysicist and translator of the science of cosmology because of NOVA TV presentations, and interviews on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report”.
Tyson explores the molecular basis of creation. He notes how ethnocentric concepts of life have evolved from a belief in man as the center of the universe to man as a grain of sand in the desert; i.e. a grain of sand randomly placed by the “big bang” of creation. Tyson describes man as a concretion of star-dust molded by a molecular carbon-based combination of atoms–superheated, cooled, and evolved over eons of cosmological time. He suggests that all planets may have forms of life. His evidence is the existence of extremophiles in earth environments. An extremophile is a living organism that survives in environments that no human being could live in. Tyson writes of thermophiles, a type of extremophile that thrives in temperatures of 113 to 252 degrees Fahrenheit.
Tyson explores the current understanding of an expanding universe, how it is measured through spectrograph analysis, and how expansion of the universe is accelerating. He notes that the end of times for humans may come from death of the sun, the turning of this universe’s white star to a red star to a dead rock; i.e. a dying sun that expands into its planets’ orbits, burns them up, and sucks their remains into its’ gravitational field. Nuclear fusion and fission decline and the sun becomes an inert rock. Tyson notes another “end of (human) times” possibility is accelerating expansion of earth’s universe that causes gradual cooling of the planet that leaves only extremophiles to survive. A third and fourth possibility is an asteroid/comet collision with earth or a collision between the Andromeda galaxy and earth’s galaxy, the Milky Way.
The highest near term probability for the end of times is assigned to the asteroid/comet hypothesis of destruction for two reasons. One, it has happened before with the extinction of dinosaurs and two, we know of two asteroids in the next 50 years that have erratic orbits that come close to earth. Tyson’s odds calculation are disconcerting. He suggests the probability of a comet collision is equivalent to one being in an airplane crash; however, he acknowledges that calculation is based on the huge number of deaths involved in a comet collision versus a much smaller number of deaths in an airplane crash. Long term, Tyson believes the world will end, either with a bang or a whimper; it is strictly a question of time. And so, maybe mankind needs an earth exit strategy.
Tyson speculates on extraterrestrial’ contact. He notes that general media fails to base concepts of other possible life forms on 20th and 21st century science. Tyson laughs at the idea of a movie’s creation of other life forms as distorted caricatures of human beings (like ET); having two eyes, a nose, a mouth, and being bi-pedal, reflecting a loss of imagination more than a likely picture of an extraterrestrial.
Tyson explains that SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) is a long shot to hear transmission from space as a first sign of contact; i.e. he laconically wonders if other intelligent life is listening rather than transmitting so that everyone is listening and no one is transmitting. On the other hand, Tyson recounts sciences’ effort to send a radio transmission to a star cluster that will reach its destination a 1000 years from now. Ironically, the high concentration of stars in that system makes that particular star cluster a bad focal point for intelligible reception. Extraterrestrial radio wave reception or transmission seem an unlikely method of first contact based on these initial attempts.
Tyson explores the history of cosmology beginning with scientists like Newton, Galileo, Copernicus, Einstein, Durac, Hubble, and many other names known and unknown by the general public. “Death by Black Hole” is interesting but not revelatory. The following videos summarize much of Tyson’s book:
<iframe src=”http://fora.tv/embed?id=2331&type=c” width=”400″ height=”260″ frameborder=”0″ scrolling=”no” webkitAllowFullScreen allowFullScreen></iframe><p><a href=”http://fora.tv/v/c2331″>Neil DeGrasse Tyson: Death by Black Hole from http://fora.tv/partner/City_Arts_Lectures“> City Arts & Lectures</a> on <a href=”http://fora.tv”>FORA.tv</a>