October 7, 2014 8:05 pm

A Visitor from South Africa Reflects on Attending StarTalk Live!


Photo of Iwan Pieterse and Neil deGrasse Tyson backstage at StarTalk Live! on 10-3-14.

From South Africa to backstage at Star Talk Live 10/3/14: Iwan Pieterse and Neil deGrasse Tyson. Credit: Stacey Severn.

Today’s guest blog post is written by Iwan Pieterse, a fan who came all the way from South Africa to visit the Hayden Planetarium and attend last week’s StarTalk Live! at The Hammerstein Ballroom. You can find out more about Iwan here.

It’s not everyday even your highest expectation of something is completely surpassed. A few days ago I wouldn’t have thought my own travels to see the Hayden Planetarium and attend a live event I’m keenly interested in would culminate in me meeting a world renowned scientist and personality, who also happened to be a personal role model of mine, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson.

I was always fascinated by space; one of my favorite movies growing up was Contact. I ached to see the day where the human race would again make giant leaps into the future, into space. I would consume whatever media I could get my hands on that had anything to do with us advancing as a species. So, I stumbled on to StarTalk Radio. I was immediately hooked. Then a few months later Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey started showing on National Geographic Channel and my mind was completely blown (along with millions of other people around the world).

It was then that I decided to go, at first, to the Hayden Planetarium in New York City, as it was mentioned in almost every episode of StarTalk Radio. I wanted to experience more. So I started saving up and planning. Then a few weeks later, I saw the ad for StarTalk Live!, so I planned my trip dates so that I could see the show, which was to me very exciting in and of itself.

So when the time came, I went to New York City. This was also the first time that I have ever been to the city and despite being probably the most frequently filmed place on Earth, nothing can really prepare you for the real thing, what an amazing place!

In anticipation of my trip, I consumed every bit of StarTalk Radio, Cosmos and related content I could find. My expectations for the American Museum of Natural History and the Hayden Planetarium were high. And they did not disappoint. They could have called have called the Hayden Planetarium just the Hayden Planet, it is literally a gigantic ball, seemingly floating in space. And the show I chose to watch, Dark Universe (Narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson), gave me a renewed sense of respect of not only how incomprehensibly large the universe is, but also of how much is still out there to be discovered. We have not even scratched the iceberg yet.

What struck me is the fact that we are only able to observe a tiny fraction of the stuff that the universe is made of. We can’t see Dark Matter or Dark Energy, which makes up 96% of all the stuff of the universe! If it weren’t for the fact that their gravitational effect on the universe could be measured, we would not have any idea that it existed at all. The show really communicated this idea well, and the presentation was just mind blowing, the visual experience a sensory delight. Read more about Dark Universe here.

Then came StarTalk Live!. I already knew what to expect as far as the format of the show, so I knew I was in for a fun evening. I was standing in line outside the Manhattan Center, looking up at the Empire State Building just a few blocks away, a privilege so many of my friends back home in South Africa have never had. The show was about sociology, with guests Malcolm Gladwell, brilliant bestselling author, journalist and speaker, as well as the Dean of the Department of sociology at Columbia University, Alondra Nelson. Eugene Mirman was there giving us his usual amazingly quick witted brand of humor alongside Wyatt Cenac from The Daily Show, also extremely fast on his feet when it comes to delivering perfectly timed humor (That Dr. Doom thing he had going was just priceless!). And of course, running the show, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson!

Photo of Iwan Pieterse and Eugene Mirman backstage at StarTalk Live! on 10-3-14

Iwan Pieterse and Eugene Mirman. Credit: Stacey Severn.

I chose a random seat close to the front and just happened to sit next to Stacey Severn, who works with StarTalk Radio’s Social Media team. She was kind enough to offer me an opportunity to meet Neil, Eugene and Wyatt as well as other people involved with the event. What an amazing experience, not only to meet one a personal role model (Neil) but to find that accomplished people are still so willing to engage with those who follow them. It can really motivate a person in their own endeavors, as this encounter did with me. I sincerely want to thank Stacey Severn and Jeffrey Simons for making it happen. And of course Dr. Tyson, for inspiring me to further my own education. And reminding me to always look up.

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