National Geographic : 2017 Feb
She’s won an Oscar for acting, a Tony for producing, a Grammy for a comedy album, a couple of Emmys—and played an alien on a Star Trek television series. What more could Whoopi Goldberg desire? To help her friend Neil tackle some big questions—about asteroids hurtling toward Earth, realistic superheroes, and zombie saliva. Stardom & Sci-Fi Neil deGrasse Tyson: You’re one of 12 people, is it, who have won the Tony, the Oscar, the Emmy, and the Grammy? That’s crazy, girl! Whoopi Goldberg: I think there are more of us than 12, but thanks. And you—you know, you’re like the smartest man on the Earth. People are like, “I love him! I hated science before he started talking.” When you find somebody who can explain to you those things which you think you’re too dumb to under- stand, it’s a magnificent thing. NT: So do you have any question for me? Is there any science question that has plagued you? WG: Well, I do want to know: Every cou- ple of years we hear that some asteroid is heading our way. What’s happening that suddenly we’re seeing it more and more? NT: We have a greater capacity than ever before to monitor asteroids that have close approaches. For me the danger zone is, are you coming closer to Earth than the orbit of the moon? I count that as an invasion of our space. Get the hell out of my living room, right? Or my backyard. WG: Right. NT: A few times a decade we get an asteroid the size of a small building or a large car coming in between us and the moon. Maybe that’s enough for you to say, “Hey, let’s build an asteroid de- fense system.” Because you know the dinosaurs would have done that if they could. If they had a big enough brain and opposable thumbs. WG: What does that system look like? NT: There’s the macho version of it, where you get your nukes and you blow it out of the sky. WG: But doesn’t that mean that other stuff is raining down? NT: That’s what I’m saying. We’re really good at blowing stuff up and less good at knowing where the pieces will fall. So the kinder, gentler way is to nudge it off its current course. It will still be there on another orbit, but you get to have it not hit us this time around. WG: So the idea of a laser destroying the asteroid is out? NT: One idea is, as the asteroid is moving through space, you beam lasers on one side of it. You vaporize that side of the asteroid, it outgasses, and that creates a recoil to push it in the other direction. Both of these are trying to change its orbital path. WG: There are satellites all around, right? Why can’t a satellite be used to shoot it? NT: By the time it’s close enough for sat- ellites that are in low Earth orbit to hit it, it’s too late. When I talk about changing the path, I’m talking about seven orbits in advance. Say the asteroid’s on a 10- year orbit and on the seventh orbit, 70 years from now, it’s going to hit Earth. I’m going to deflect it today so that in Neil deGrasse Tyson is the host of StarTalk, airing Mondays through February 6 at 11/10c on National Geographic. His new book StarTalk: Everything You Ever Need to Know About Space Travel, Sci-Fi, the Human Race, the Universe, and Beyond, is available wherever books are sold and at shopng.com/startalk. WILLIAM CALLAN, CONTOUR BY GETTY IMAGES | STARTALK | WITH NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON PHOTO: TIMOTHY WHITE, TRUNK ARCHIVE (RIGHT) THIS INTERVIEW, DRAWN FROM A STARTALK TAPING, WAS EDITED FOR LENGTH AND CLARITY.