October 26, 2013 1:40 pm

Neil deGrasse Tyson and Dan Aykroyd Hanging Out Telling Ghost Stories

Photo of Neil deGrasse Tyson and Dan Aykroyd Telling Ghost Stories by Laura Berland

Photo Credit: Laura Berland.

Ahh, October. The leaves are turning. The skies are crisp and clear. Time to gather round a crackling campfire, roasting marshmallows and telling ghost stories.

Of course, if you can’t get out this Sunday night, I have an alternative: join us and listen in as everyone’s own personal astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and the original Ghostbuster, Dan Aykroyd, sit around Neil’s office at the Hayden Planetarium telling ghost stories.

And not just any ghost stories. Dan tells the story of the ghost of Flight 401, the kind of tale that, if you were on the fence about the existence of ghosts, might just tip you over to the scarier side. It’s got everything: a clear cause, a clear resolution, and an in-between filled with multiple sightings by airline pilots (not the flightiest bunch of eyewitnesses, after all).

Of course, this is StarTalk Radio, not Are You Afraid of the Dark?, which means any ectoplasmic adventures gets examined though a scientifically critical lens. This week, Neil is joined in that function by fellow astrophysicist, co-host Charles Liu. And that means that Dan’s tale of airline crashes and ghostly apparitions is countered with a discussion of the current state of psychological research into group hallucinations and the physical causes of paranormal events. (For an entire show bringing science to the supernatural, check out our Halloween episode from Season 2, Spooky Science.) Real science is everywhere: a Ghostbusters reference leads to a discussion of escape velocity at the edge of the event horizon of a black hole.

Neil even gets into the spirit of the conversation, recounting a ghost story told to him by his second cousin – although, for Neil, it’s only to illustrate how a scientific and experimental mindset needs to be brought to bear on the subject. You can watch that exchange in this “Behind the Scenes” video taken with a camera phone in Neil’s office:

Sober, scientific discussion seems to be the theme of the entire episode. As Dan recounts his early life, growing up in a family steeped in séances, forged in the heyday of spiritualism, he does so without sensationalism. You can almost hear Dr. Ray Stantz as he talks, which is no surprise since Dan also tells the story of how reading an article in one of the journals lying around his house about quantum physics and the science of parapsychology gave him the idea for Ghostbusters. And even though Dan has never seen a ghost, and doesn’t ever expect to see one, he is looking for a scientific reason for their existence – and planning on freezing one with Freon if he gets the chance. (After all, who you gonna call?)

Moving on from ghosts to aliens, Dan reminisces about how he and Tom Davis created the Conehead characters on Saturday Night Live. (If you don’t know who they are, ask your “Parental Units.”) They talk about My Stepmother Is An Alien and SETI, the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence, with a little update from Charles Liu.

And then they get to The Blues Brothers… and that amazing car, The Bluesmobile, with “cop tires, cop suspensions, cop shocks” and abilities that defy rational explanation. Dan talks about their “Mission from God”, Elwood’s skill as a mechanic, and a deleted scene that may have given a more “scientific” explanation of the car’s seemingly magical or spiritual abilities.

We couldn’t offer up a more enjoyable Halloween episode than this one, which definitely falls into the treat category. A Conversation with Dan Aykroyd (Part 2) will be available this Sunday, Oct. 28th at 7:00pm ET on our website,website, iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher.

That’s it for now. Keep Looking Up.
–Jeffrey Simons