The Life and Times of Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Meet A True Astronomy Star!

Neil DeGrasse Tyson

 Getty Images / Gary Gershoff

Have you heard or seen of Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson?  If you're a space and astronomy fan, you almost certainly have run across his work. Dr. Tyson is  the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History. He is best-known as the host of COSMOS: A Space-Time Odyssey, a 21st-century continuation of Carl Sagan's hit science series  COSMOS from the 1980s. He's also the host and executive producer of StarTalk Radio, a streaming program available online and through such venues as iTunes and Google. 

The Life and Times of Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Born and raised in New York City, Dr. Tyson realized he wanted to study space science when he was young and had a look through a pair of binoculars at the Moon. At the age of 9, he visited the Hayden Planetarium. There he had his first good look at how the starry sky looked. However, as he has often said when he was growing up, "being smart is not on the list of things that gets you respect." He recalled that at that time, African-American boys were expected to be athletes, not scholars.

That didn't stop the young Tyson from exploring his dreams of the stars. At 13, he attended summer astronomy camp in the Mojave Desert. There, he could see millions of stars in the clear desert sky. He attended the Bronx High School of Science and went on to earn a BA in Physics from Harvard. He was a student-athlete at Harvard, rowing on the crew team and was part of the wrestling team. After earning a Master's degree from the University of Texas at Austin, he went home to New York to do his doctoral work at Columbia. He eventually earned his Ph.D. in Astrophysics from Columbia University.

As a doctoral student, Tyson wrote his dissertation on the Galactic Bulge. That's the central region of our galaxy. It contains many older stars as well as a black hole and clouds of gas and dust. He worked as an astrophysicist and research scientist at Princeton University for a time and as a columnist for StarDate magazine. In 1996, Dr. Tyson became the first occupant of the Frederick P. Rose Directorship of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City (the youngest director in the long history of the planetarium). He worked as the project scientist for the planetarium's renovation that began in 1997 and founded the department of astrophysics at the museum. 

The Pluto Controversy

In 2006, Dr. Tyson made news (along with the International Astronomical Union) when Pluto's planetary status was changed to "dwarf planet". He has taken an active role in the public debate about the issue, often disagreeing with established planetary scientists about the nomenclature, while agreeing that Pluto is an interesting and unique world in the solar system.  

Neil DeGrasse Tyson's Astronomy Writing Career

Dr. Tyson published the first of a number of books on astronomy and astrophysics in 1988. His research interests include star formation, exploding stars, dwarf galaxies, and the structure of our Milky Way. To conduct his research, he has used telescopes all over the world, as well as the Hubble Space Telescope. Over the years, he has written a number of research papers on these topics. 

Dr. Tyson is heavily involved in writing about science for public consumption. He has worked on such books as One Universe: At Home in the Cosmos (coauthored with Charles Liu and Robert Irion) and a very popular-level book called Just Visiting This Planet. He also wrote Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier, and as well as Death by Black Hole, among other popular books.

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson is married with two children and resides in New York City. His contributions to the public appreciation of the cosmos were recognized by the International Astronomical Union in their official naming of asteroid "13123 Tyson." 

Edited by Carolyn Collins Petersen

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Greene, Nick. "The Life and Times of Neil DeGrasse Tyson." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Greene, Nick. (2021, February 16). The Life and Times of Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Retrieved from Greene, Nick. "The Life and Times of Neil DeGrasse Tyson." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 7, 2023).