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Fri, 26 May 2017 20:28:56 UT
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There probably aren’t many astrophysicists who have to put on sunglasses when they walk down the street to keep from being mobbed by admirers. Of late, he has been unafraid to use his pull — he has more than 7 million followers on Twitter — to poke fun at the president, offering a series of “StarTalk” shows titled “Make America Smart Again.” On a recent visit to San Francisco, Tyson spoke to The Chronicle about his latest book, the concise and profound “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry” (W.W. Norton; $18.95) — and how he avoided getting wedgies as a youngster. People had joked, “Oh, was the title ‘Astrophysics for Dummies’ already taken?” And, yes, it was taken. (Laughs.) But this is not “Astrophysics for Dummies” — it’s “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry.” [...] I comb the universe and handpick those things that I think are the most striking, most mind-blowing, most intriguing, most mysterious, and then I establish a story arc for it. Panspermia is the idea that life would form in one place across space, could be another planet, and then by some mechanism or another, transfer from that place where it formed to another place. If Mars had liquid water and had the right temperatures for life and conditions, it is possible that life could have started on Mars before it would have ever possibly happened on Earth. [...] add to that that in the early solar system, there’s major impacts happening because the planets are still vacuuming up debris left over from the formation of the solar system. If there are microbes everywhere, and you have a rock that was steeped in microbes, you’d have stowaway bacteria in the nooks and crannies of the rocks. If any one of them had any resistive power to long stretches of time away from water, to being basically freeze-dried because of the temperatures that are out there and then landing on Earth, which later has water, which then reconstitutes this life that happened to survive, then life on Earth would have begun on Mars. [...] you can ask, are we all descendants of these stowaway bacteria? [...] if aliens are trying to talk to us through radio signals, and it’s really weak in the radio noise of space, the Chinese telescope will be the first to retrieve those signals, and so they’ll have the first conversation with the aliens. It turns out that rock has only a certain capacity to hold weight above it before it crumbles or before it changes its structural integrity. [...] it turns out Mount Everest is about as high a mountain as you’re going to get, given the amount of gravity that Earth has, and what gravity does for large objects is turns things into near-perfect spheres. If you were a cosmic giant and you came upon the Earth, and you take your finger and rub your finger across it, it would feel as smooth as a cue ball. [...] political would be, “I think we should fund this program three times as much as that other program because it’s more consistent with my conservative values or my liberal sensibilities.” [...] there was a day when we’d get sort of slammed into the lockers by the football quarterback and kind of socially abused. [...] this changed the power dynamic between the beautiful people who were, you know, homecoming king and queen, and the nerd set. [...] from that point onward there was a wealth redistribution to the point where now the patron saint of nerds is the richest person in the world, in the guise of Bill Gates. [...] you look at all the tech companies — that’s the geek culture that gave you your smartphone, that gave you Facebook, that gave you Twitter, that gave you all these things that are now shaping the dialogue of how information is handled and distributed in our country.

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