Asking "The Big Questions"

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NOVA scienceNOW is changing its format with a new season that tackles some of the biggest questions on people's minds in six specially themed new episodes. We'll be pondering who we are, how we got here, and where things are going.

Premieres Wednesday, Jan. 19th on PBS (please check local listings).

Please Note: While you are free to leave questions, this is not a Q&A forum where Neil will be directly responding to questions.

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I am such a fan of NOVA...and all science programming for that matter, which is the only interesting entertainment I watch on TV - Naturally, there's alot of questions that I wish I could ask...but I'll try to just ask a couple that seem to always be at the fore-front of my thinking :
Viewing galaxies close to 13 billion light years away and saying that we're seeing 13 billion years in the past, just doesn't seem to make sense to me.
How can we see what existed 13 billion years ago (or even 600 million years after the Big Bang, supposedly...when galaxies were starting to form), 13 billion light years away ...if it took 13 billion years for that light (from that galaxy) to reach earth now ? - Then 13 billion years ago...where, in this universe, was that galaxy then ?
No one can say, not even close to where that galaxy had just formed ...was it even close in vicinity to our 'local group' ? we can't be close with even our best guess, how long it took for that galaxy to 'expand' from where it existed 13 billion years ago end up being where we're seeing it now - Right !'s not there now was there 13 billion years ago ! ...seeing it now, from earth's location in the universe.
And I've always wondered about the way scientists use 'YEARS' to measure time - Whose years are they using exactly ? ...The time it takes the earth to make one complete revolution around the sun ? - Well it can't be that accurate can it ? - The amount of time it's taken the earth to revolve around the sun hasn't always been exactly the same and it just seems too superfluous and vague, for science wouldn't you think there might be a more precise measurement of time that scientists would prefer as opposed to using earth's orbit ?
Speaking of 'TIME' ...with all the scientific programming I've watched practically all my life, I've never heard any scientist say what I've always perceived : That TIME is MOTION ...MOTION is TIME - Would you consider that as fact ?
Thnx so much for sharing such interesting science and fascinating knowledge with those of us who have our insatiable curiousities with a longing to know all that science can reveal !

Dear Neil Degrasse Tyson,
Double Slit experiment- In your opinion, what does the double slit experiment say about consciousness? Does it suggest the mind have influence over matter? Is there a type of rule containing, computer-like consciousness that exists outside of our own brains? Which penetrates all of space time.? This question is addressed to anyone who would like to respond, please do, my mind is twisted, has been for a while now. Im stuck in between worldviews.
The double slit experiment basically shows that an electron can behave as a particle and a wave. Placing ones awareness on an electron causes the electron to "become an electron" rather than a wave. Awareness, mind, consciousness caused the electron to behave differently? that was my interpretation. It's obviously valuable to hear some others because this interpretation is likely to have been embellished by myself as well as others. Not sure what to believe. Quick five minute video on youtube titled "dr quantum double slit experiment", very interesting stuff.



What would happen to our oceans if the moon wasn't pulling on them at all times to help aerate the ocean? With the moon pulling away from us just a few inches at a time, will we someday be without tides? What would the absence of tides do to our oceans' ecosystems?

I was watching dr. eagleman on the brain special and our perception of time.

i was wondering if anybody has tested the idea that our perception of time is dependent on the speed of our synapses. the faster the flow of electrons, the slower time seems to go. it could explain why we perceive time as going slower under stressful situations where adrenalin flows, or if the influence of drugs can speed or slow that perception.


Dear Dr. Tyson,
Thank you for expanding my sight and understanding of the cosmic perspective of various things for these last several years. I have a few questions about a subject that has been gnawing at my brain for a long time. First, what is Carbon-14? Where does come from? Can it be concentrated in locations? And finally, is Carbon-14 dating one hundred percent reliable? Why or why not? Than you for listening and keep up the good work.

Nathan Hardcastle
A fellow enthusiast


Nova show on Jan,27th,about food for a trip to mars. Keeping food fresh for a trip to mars is no probbem to me,becouse I was working in Antarctica at McMurdo and the south pole 1996-1997 winter. A lot of the food we eat is can'ed food that is four or more years old,and its good, A lot of the meat is in deep freeze for four years or more,there is meat there in deep freeze for over 25 years,but the cooks will not let you know the date of the food most of the time. Can'ed food keeps for a long time past its date. Meat keeps good for a long time in cans as well,and that goes for just about anything you can think of. If NASA whats to find new ways to keep food fresh for a trip to the stars, go to Antarctica and see how they keep food fresh there. Aloha


Dear Neil
I’m not complaining, I’m just complaining.
First let me say I like you and think you are a good charismatic figure to champion science to kids. BUT …Maybe if you had actually gone to Cornell someone could have talked some sense into your head after all.

Mars? Are you kidding? Only if it’s a planned one-way trip and we-the-world have more money than we know what to do with. Sorry. Not happening, and if we try, it’s only human self-aggrandizing to a more obscene level than usual.

You must know that unmanned missions are the only way to go and we already know what’s up there. AI and robotics make perfect sense, along with a way to stay on top.
As someone who has worked 150’ under water and later with supplied air from chemical plant dangers, I pretty well know one bad mistake, and if it’s not your day, it’s all over.
(OK I hear you saying too bad it wasn’t) I was just too dumb to realize it. Are you?

Exploration-schmexploration. Men and women in deep space are only a frivolous stunt. (speaking of which all you need is a bungee cord around both waists and the whole sex bit is fixed.) We couldn’t even keep the Bio-sphere viable, although I personally met a guy who sneaked in much beer to try to make it so.

If we live forever everyone would need to stand up so we would have to go? The empty bottom of the ocean where we can actually learn something about life, and the middle of the dessert are a million times more hospitable. Suppose we learn to cap oil wells first. A manned submersible might have actually helped.

Intentionally blurring science fiction with reality is disingenuous. Or is this really a way to con gullible entertainers and politicians into throwing money at windmills? If Reagan bought Star-wars anything can happen. You must be too young to recall Eisenhower’s warnings. Or are you, (behind that Cheshire cat smile) ?

If you need to be straightened out on any other issues drop me a line.

Your fan
Cornell ‘68

Dr Tyson,

I watched your show for the first time last night and found it so very interesting! I'll be watching the whole season of Science Now.

I'm in my 60's and don't want my life extended in any way, shape or form. I keep moving closer and closer to nature, letting go of bad eating habits, being more active. My goal is to compress morbidity. I want to be kickin' until the end! Through positive steps, I've been able to eliminate the meds that most of us old folks are on, and now thoroughly enjoy my life with the kids and grandkids.

Definitely, research should move ahead in cell biology, but to be used for younger people that would die early without the new discoveries. But time and money shouldn't be wasted on keeping people alive to 100 and beyond. You said it so pefectly: where exactly would we all go??

I'm looking forward to your future broadcasts!

Dr. Tyson,
I love the new show, and I wanted to thank you for all you do in bringing science to the public. I used to be very intimidated and bored by what little science I learned in school as a teenager. Now, as a young adult, I am truly fascinated by the subject. While it is probably too late for me to get a career in the scientific field, learning about the scientific method and the general mindset of scientists has been extremely beneficial for me. I am now excited to learn about the vast universe of which I am a part, and I have a much better understanding of how to be a good, critical and skeptical thinker. It is thanks to people like you, Phil Plait, and the SGU podcast that I ever gained an interest in science. I was too young when Carl Sagan was around, so I'm glad people like you are around to carry on. Keep up the great work.

Neil - Great show last night! My husband and I really enjoyed it, with exclamations of "No Way!" and gasps of astonishment. As the stories continued and different brilliant people were featured, I couldn't escape noticing the prominence of work being done at our universities. Thoughts led back to our President's speech the previous evening and his call for continued investments in our future. Yes this means spending on innovation and education! and what a great thing! I support the President's call for increased investment in science; without it, we wouldn't see the kinds of amazing things we were treated to last night.

You will notice that I had a spelling error. Kids may not be up for your show on a school night is what I intended. The m is right near the space bar as you know. I apologize.


My husband and I usually like Nova better than most other Science shows and have watched a couple of the 'Nova Science Now' programs. Yesterday we watched the one about 'Can We Live Forever?'

I have no idea where you guys get your scripts from but a scaffold is nothing at all like what you were trying to explain. Scaffolds are just big ladders. When you are building something and a ladder is not big or safe enough, you rent a scaffold. Once the building is completed, the scaffold is removed and returned to the rental company.

Had you used words like Structure, Skeleton, Matrix it would have made some sense. As it is, whoever suggested saying scaffolding is absolutely 'out to lunch'. The English language exists for us to teach others, but we need to learn the basics ourselves first. We really should not make fools of ourselves in public.

Since you utilize cartoons (pretty tacky ones) it would seem that your goal is to teach children. I suppose children may still be awake and up while your program airs but likely notm on school nights. Perhaps you could dispense with the childish props. Most kids you are trying to target will not be impressed. They are a good deal smarter than that. Let us not teach children to ridicule it is not useful.


Wonderful show on aging and cheating death! I think that in the next 50 years or less we will be directly connecting our nervous systems with computers - and I would think soon after that it's likely we will do away with the old bodies. If we can get to that point we will have evolved into the next form of life. But it's going to be a close race with the failure of civilization as the planet starts reacting to the poisons, pollutants and over harvesting of life and resources.


In the segment about growing body parts, why was there no mention of stem cells?

Neil, what a brilliant production from concept to research to honing to concise information to delivery! I immediately called my 95 year young father so he could watch the living forever show from his own home! I look forward to your other series!!!

This show is fantastic. Thank you for doing what you are doing, I only wish everyone in the world was required to learn all of these things. In the mean time, hurrah to all fellow astrophysicists and future ones!


Tonight's show on how to live longer was fascinating. I believe that as humans we will evolve to reform ourselves into new species that will be capable of living on new planets or our good old earth. Nature takes care of over-population in one form or the other, so as much as I understand Mr. Patterson's comment and agree that we must slow growth of population, we must also work diligently to do what we do best, explore, expand, evolve.


To Neil deGrasse Tyson,
I want to thank you for a great gift. The gift of remembering how fascinating science really is. My love of science began when I was young and couldn't get enough of Carl Sagan. I watched TV and read books - anything that pertained to science through the eyes of Carl Sagan. Your methods have brought that love, desire and fascination back for me. I`want to learn more and more.
Thank you.


On tonight's show on hibernation/suspended animation you commented on the need to expand the space program in order to send people to another planet due to a future overcrowded earth. That's irresponsible and unaffordable. The goal should be to slow population growth to suit the amount of natural resources available, not lobby for fantastical emigration of multitudes of humans to other planets.

Sometimes it seems scientists lose their common sense and perspective.

I really enjoyed the Mars episode. It would seem we have almost all the big problems solved or close to being solved.
Thanks for keeping science and technology on tv in a intresting format.

Enjoyed the Mars episode. But wondered what would happen if someone became ill? Would one of the flight crew have to be a doctor and would a large cache of medicine have to accompany them?

Enjoyed the Mars episode. But wondered what would happen if someone became ill? Would one of the flight crew have to be a doctor and would a large cache of medicine have to accompany them?

  Religion and Scientific Heroes

PBS presented the scientific thought process of Carl Sagan in his series called Cosmos in the late 1970s. In search for new scientific frontiers, PBS NOVA's scienceNow is portraying a new hero of Astrophysics in the name of Neil deGrasse Tyson.

I hope the religious community does not demonize Neil as they did and continue to do with Carl. Many call Carl an Atheist, not that there is anything wrong with being an Atheist. I just don't see this man made judgement as being true. The PBS series Cosmos illustrates Carl having a sincere hope for a higher spirit. As one unwilling to squander faith on the unconfirmed beliefs of man's authority. It's not God Carl questions, it's man's interpretation.

If God equals truth is a symmetric equation, Carl and Neil are explorers seeking Gods frontier. With a media and many self serving officials spreading ignorance through fear and hatred causing chaos and public disorder, it is refreshing to witness Carl and Neil in search of scientific truths.

A goal of religious faith is to prepare for a final judgement. I suggest Carl scored high in his judgement, as will Neil. The concept of a judgement day is imaginable. Upon completion of each life span, what if there was a final exam? How to prepare? Could mere mortals develop a Do Good Gauge as a moral compass? Could a gauge motivate competition for a higher level of good?

Could science produce a moral compass giving better direction than the chaos inflicted by a callous media and self serving officials?

Astrophysics is Neil deGrasse Tyson field of expertise, Carl Sagan often wondered in the realm of theoretical physics. Theoretical physics is the science of this discussion.



What an amazing program you have helped to create and star in.

I used to be a carpenter in Phoenix and lost 99% of my wealth and assets during the Great Recession. As you can imagine my spirits and self-worth have taken quite a hit as a result. Although traditional avenue's of entertainment can make me laugh and forget for a while, it is shows like yours that inspire me to get back on my feet. Thank you (and all those associated) for all of your hard work. Also, thanks for reminding me that not every person of above average intelligence is a Wall Street banker or politician.

At 34 I will be taking my first college class this fall, wish me steadfast motivation!

"God bless you all"??? Are you serious? I never comment or reply to comments, but this one really takes the cake. Why is it that religious people have to minimize everything by making it all about "god"? There wouldn't BE a Neil DeGrasse Tyson if it weren't for people specifically standing up to the idea of ANY gods, yet you hope YOURS will bless the ScienceNOW staff? Whenever an athlete thanks THEIR god(s), are they assuming their god(s) specifically wanted their opponent to lose? The world of science is the only bastion of true secularism left... Religion (NOT spirituality) has poisoned everything else... Please leave science alone.


According to John Lear, the U.S. perfected antigravity in 1958, flew to the moon in 1962 and Mars in 1966. How do you respond to claims by Andrew Basiago that he traveled in space and time using hidden space theory in the classified, experimental Project Pegasus from 1969 to 1972?

With favored aerospace contractors and the Department of Energy underwriting programs at PBS, we won't learn about the astonishing things happening in our real but secret space program here. That is regrettable.


Nova Science Now with Neil deGrasse Tyson is simple an excellent production for learning for all ages. I'm so happy to see it return to the airwaves of PBS. It sets the stages for a new generation of dreamers and explorers from across the world to maybe one day step on Mars.


NOVA SCIENCE Now has caught the eye of my 14 year old! We actually sat down and watched it together!I am so happy that we actually are watching PBS together,AMAZING! Neil degrasse Tyson is the best package of intelligence,humor and creativity, and he always has a smile on is face, like he is really honestly enjoying getting his messages across and teaching a generation of budding astrophysicist or just someone with a simple hobby,he is a terrific role model and has obviously performed a miracle in my house.


Can We Make It to Mars is the best Nova show I probably have ever seen. The presentation was interesting and balanced. I think it demonstrated conclusively that we are not getting to Mars any time soon, which is just as well for as far as I'm concerned there is no rush. A point that could have been elaborated on is the effect of watching the astronauts die on evening TV. Until the probability of that happening is very much lower than it is now, no one in their right mind would authorize such a mission.

Good work Neil. I look forward to your treatment of the other five questions.


Enjoyed the program.

The long trip and the space hazards-meteorites among them-beg the question of just getting home......safely. The craft is likely to be a bit battered on the way there. Will a spare accompany the trip? Another problem are the cosmic rays and what they could do to the astronauts' brains. How would their ability to perform be affected over the trip to and from.

How about the croo makeup. All men or all women? Not likely. So if there are men and women are they all single, married to each other, or oar, ore? How would NASA sell a group of unmarried men and women going on a trip to Mars to a group of conservatives?


Mr. Tyson,

I read your "Death By Black Hole" and Steven Squyres' "Roving Mars" within a year of one another. Seeing Nova Science Now brought to mind a thought I had back then.

You complain that there isn't a lot of science in science fiction. I have an idea for less fictional science fiction. It's a television series like Grey's Anatomy, only it takes place at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and other labs, rather than in a hospital. A second lab is where they do genetic engineering to create small animals that can live in the Martian environment and can do tasks more difficult than the rovers could do. A third lab is Dr. Ramachandran's, or one similar, where neuroscientists are working on finding where one's will is. A fourth lab is a nanoscience lab, which is looking for a technology for duplicating human will for the purpose of transplanting it into the brains of the genetically engineered animals that JPL will send to Mars.

Based on your cameo appearance on the Big Bang Theory, I believe that you can find writers and producers that could make such a science fiction series come to life. What do you think?

It's so satisfying to see Nova Science Now again, as well as NdeGT. Too good. Always interesting, thought provoking, etc. in every way. Keep it coming!

Great show..covered all the bases..even astronauts (last explorers)..and how even today they would make the journey..for journey sake..knowing they might not make it back


I agree with Mr. Johnson on the efx. Having been in broadcast journalism, I think I know how producers think. The plinks and plonks will "sex" it up, hype the excitement, and thus attract audiences --- u are dead wrong. The "draw" is the story - and you have an incredible story to tell. The story is the main thing and will do the job; it will give you the audiences for your otherwise fine and important content. JML


Great programs! Always a pleasure to see some new science programs. Thanks, keep them coming.


I liked the show about going to Mars. BUT BUT BUT

Can you please greatly reduce the sound effects? I find them distracting and annoyingly loud.

I love to watch Nova but sometimes turn it off because of this problem.

Dick Johnson


Very good show about a possible trip to Mars. It seemed to skip the information offered by Dr. Robert Zubrin in his book "The Case For Mars", which I admit has biased my view of what is immediately possible versus another half century of boldly going where others are yawning to go again. Oops, nearly stumbled onto a soap box there. Sorry. It was very informative, and the video material was excellent and complimentary to the narrative provided by the host. The host was very professional and engaging. This is not to say that he doesn't bear watching though. He looks like he could be one of those inquisitive, touchy-feely kids you hear about that teachers take on field trips to planetariums, for example, and while no one is looking, he grabs the last planet off of the planetarium's display. That type of thing probably only happens in New York though, based on current rumors. :-) I look forward to the next show.


Neil, I loved the show about Mars. It was crazy to think about tiny debris taking out our space ships. But I do have a question. Why only six big questions? This means only six episodes. This is bad. I would like to see more episodes.


Loved the show tonight. Thanks for all the great and interesting information on the challenges of getting to Mars. I can imagine that there are now a lot of young people starting to think of new, bold solutions as a result of your show! God bless.

I just watched the Nova episode on developing materials stronger than steel. Continuing on the issue that Sally raised, I thought the animations of knights shooting other knights in armor just a tad too graphic. Perhaps coming off the shootings in Arizona, I found it taking the subject of point blank shootings too lightly. I understand it was illustrating a segueway into the serious subject of the development of Kevlar, but it seemed to be making a joke of deadly force. Since the whole show seems aimed at younger audience, it seemed inappropriate, and especially graphic with blood gushing from the fallen knight.


Dear Neil,

I just saw your most recent program on man going to Mars, it was an incredible program! You are providing such a significant service to humanity in stiring our thinking and imagination. Your programming is helping to nurture the scientist of tomorrow who will answer many of the questions your program highlighted. "Thank you" to you and PBS for your wonderful work!


Hi Neil,
I love your show. I just watched the show about going to Mars and the plasma rocket. I was born in 1958 and I grew up watching Walter Cronkite get all excited about us going to the moon. Well, I know how he felt. I had tears in my eyes imagining going to Mars in 5 months and maybe even beyond. Wow. Thanks to you and Dr Chang-Diaz. I feel again like there is hope for mankind. God Bless you all
Christi Wright
Niverville Ny


I understand your concern with showing things that you may think are above the age of your grandchildren. As far as I am aware, NOVA scienceNOW, or regular NOVA does not cover any violent subjects. Even the most recent episode that dealt with dinosaurs was on the first winged dinosaurs, and I do not recall anything in it I would not show to my 5 year old. They may cover many things that your grandchildren are unexperienced with, but that is all a part of learning.


Dear Neil,

Do you have any science shows specific to little ones who may not be ready to see overly graphic imagery, i.e., one dinosaur eating another one, if you get my gist. I absolutely love your show and would love it if my grandchildren could watch also since they are very interested in science.

What do you suggest.

Sally Meadow