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My Favorite Universe

My Favorite Universe

Neil deGrasse Tyson Ph.D.
Hayden Planetarium

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My Favorite Universe

My Favorite Universe

Neil deGrasse Tyson Ph.D.
Hayden Planetarium
Course No.  158
Course No.  158
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Course Overview

About This Course

12 lectures  |  32 minutes per lecture

In My Favorite Universe, the astrophysicist who directs the nation's most famous planetarium takes you on a spirited and intellectually engaging journey through the cosmos and all its history, from before the Big Bang to the most likely ways in which Earth, and perhaps the entire universe, might end.

Clear Science Teaching to Set the Stage for an Awe-Inspiring Course

Created for a lay audience and readily accessible, in this course science always takes precedence over drama. The lectures are certainly entertaining, often funny, even awe-inspiring at times, as befits the subject matter.

Even though you will be entertained, you will be learning good science.

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In My Favorite Universe, the astrophysicist who directs the nation's most famous planetarium takes you on a spirited and intellectually engaging journey through the cosmos and all its history, from before the Big Bang to the most likely ways in which Earth, and perhaps the entire universe, might end.

Clear Science Teaching to Set the Stage for an Awe-Inspiring Course

Created for a lay audience and readily accessible, in this course science always takes precedence over drama. The lectures are certainly entertaining, often funny, even awe-inspiring at times, as befits the subject matter.

Even though you will be entertained, you will be learning good science.

Clear introductions to essential principles of physics support these lectures, including density, quantum theory, gravity, and the General Theory of Relativity. Professor Neil deGrasse Tyson also includes forays into disciplines such as chemistry and biology as needed to explain events in astronomy.

For example, Dr. Tyson begins one lecture at a point 13 billion years ago, when all space, matter, and energy in the known universe were contained in a volume less than one-trillionth the size of a pinpoint—about the size of a single atom. By the time he finishes, the cosmos has been stretched, the planets and our Earth formed, and 70 percent of existing Earth species have been wiped out by a gigantic asteroidclearing the way for the evolution of humanity.

Along the way he has touched on Einstein's famous equation, E=mc2; on the four forces that were once unified in the early cosmos in a way physicists are still trying to explain; and on the chemical enrichment of the universe by exploding supernovae, which give the universe its necessary supply of heavier elements including oxygen, nitrogen, iron and, most important, carbon.

Carbon, we learn, is a "sticky" atom, capable of making more kinds of molecules than all other elements combined. It's the ideal element with which to experiment in the building of life forms and is, of course, the element responsible for the remarkable diversity of life, including us.

As Dr. Tyson notes, we are made of stardust, just as the planets are. And he has created a course that explains exactly how that came to be, beginning with a grounding in the basic "machinery" of matter, forces, and energy that has been discovered on Earth and which also reveals itself throughout the universe.

The Stark and Violent Beauty of the Universe

With this basic foundation in place, explanations of cosmic events fall logically into place, and the realities of the universe—including its eventual demise—are revealed in stark and often violent beauty. You learn:

  • how Saturn's rings were formed, and why they will eventually be lost
  • why low-density conditions are necessary to produce the drama of the northern and southern auroras
  • why even the most jagged and wild of the Earth's mountain ranges are, from a cosmic standpoint, really part of a perfectly smooth sphere
  • how black holes are formed and the extraordinary way in which they can wreak havoc in the universe
  • how asteroids moving through space represent threats of extraordinary consequence to Earth, no matter how long those threats may take to be realized
  • why the seemingly infinite panorama of celestial bodies revealed by the Hubble Space Telescope's famous "Deep Field" so intrigued astronomers
  • how astronomers actually look for new planets,
  • why the odds seem overwhelmingly in favor of some kind of life out there, whether we ever make contact or not.

Most important, none of these ideas are presented as isolated "space factoids" that serve no purpose but to entertain. They are there to illustrate and reinforce the key principles of physics and astrophysics that are continually being presented in this course.

But the inclusion of real science doesn't prevent Dr. Tyson from having some fun, either.

When it's time to show how a black hole might remove one from the universe, he leads you right up to the "event horizon" and slips you in—feet first. Since the event horizon represents the point within which nothing, not even light, can escape, you might think this is a bad idea. And you would be right.

But as you plummet toward the "singularity" at the heart of the black hole, you will learn firsthand about the interesting effects of gravity truly unleashed, including what physicists refer to, with a straight face, as "spaghettification." (Actually, Professor Tyson recommends that you be sucked in to a large black hole rather than a small one. You'll still be spaghettified, but it won't happen as quickly.)

But make no mistake: Dr. Tyson does not consider the cosmos a laughing matter, this kind of whimsical touch notwithstanding. In spite of his training, he remains, admittedly, still in awe of his subject. And he has created a course that might well produce the same feeling in you.

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12 Lectures
  • 1
    On Being Round
    What forces tend to make objects round? And why is a sphere the most efficient shape an object can take? The answers will lead us across the cosmos. x
  • 2
    On Being Rarefied
    Just how "thin"—low in density—is the "thin air" out of which a magician produces a rabbit? And if the universe contains components that are even thinner, exactly what does that mean to us? x
  • 3
    On Being Dense
    This is a discussion of different levels of density and the inherent mysteries of this property, along with the ways in which an understanding of density helps us think creatively about the world. x
  • 4
    Death by Black Hole
    Take a look at black holes, one of the most fascinating topics in the universe—including the ways in which they would kill a human being, how they wreak havoc in the universe, and some provocative new research. x
  • 5
    Ends of the World
    Here is a detailed look at three scenarios for the destruction of our planet: the death of the Sun, the collision of the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies, and the heat death of the cosmos. x
  • 6
    Coming Attractions
    We now know that a deposit of energy sufficient to kill off 50 to 90 percent of all species strikes Earth every 100 million years. This lecture looks at our risks of getting hit by an asteroid and what we can do to avoid it. x
  • 7
    Onward to the Edge
    Take a break from the death and destruction of asteroids and the end of the universe and wonder, instead, at the enormity of the cosmos and what our place in it might be. x
  • 8
    In Defense of the Big Bang
    We now know without doubt how the universe began, how it evolved, and how it will end. This lecture explains and defends a "theory" far too often misunderstood. x
  • 9
    The Greatest Story Ever Told
    A synthesis of the greatest discoveries of physics, astrophysics, chemistry, and biology creates a coherent story of the birth and evolution of the cosmos. x
  • 10
    Forged in the Stars
    The origin of the elements that make up life is one of the most important discoveries in any field in the 20th century, yet underappreciated by the public because it happened over many decades. This lecture presents a step-by-step explanation of the long path to a Nobel Prize-winning idea. x
  • 11
    The Search for Planets
    Before 1995, the planets of our own solar system were the only ones we knew about; the total has now passed 100. This lecture discusses the tools and methods being used to find other planets that might be hospitable to human life. x
  • 12
    The Search for Life in the Universe
    This lecture examines the very real possibility that life exists elsewhere, and speculates about its origins and chemical makeup. x

Lecture Titles

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Neil deGrasse Tyson
Neil deGrasse Tyson, Ph.D.
Hayden Planetarium

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson is the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. He is also a research associate in the Department of Astrophysics at the museum. Professor Tyson earned his undergraduate degree in Physics from Harvard University and his Ph.D. in Astrophysics from Columbia University. Dr. Tyson has written prolifically for the public, including a series of essays in Natural History magazine on which his previous Great Course, My Favorite Universe, is based. His books include Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier; a memoir, The Sky is Not the Limit: Adventures of an Urban Astrophysicist; and One Universe: At Home in the Cosmos (coauthored with Charles Liu and Robert Irion), winner of the 2001 American Institute of Physics Science Writing Award to a Scientist. Dr. Tyson is host of The Cosmos, a science documentary series televised on the Fox network, and former host of the PBS television series NOVA scienceNOW. His contributions to the public appreciation of the cosmos have been recognized by the International Astronomical Union in their official naming of asteroid "13123 Tyson."

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Reviews

Rated 4.2 out of 5 by 80 reviewers.
Rated 4 out of 5 by Understandable basics of the universe There are a few things one needs to consider about this course. First, it is an older course (2003). Consequently, the advancements and discoveries that have been made in the last decade are not included. Nonetheless, since the course focuses on the basics of the material presented, it has valuable information. Second, The Great Courses have changed the presentation format over the years. I’m used to newer courses, where the presenter talks directly into (changing) cameras with the help of teleprompters. In this course, deGrasse Tyson still presents to a class of people (that cannot be seen in the camera), with the help of notes on his desk. So the presentation is not always as fluent as in newer lectures. And finally, and I quote, “The mission of the dozen lectures in My Favorite Universe is to pique your interest in some of the most fascinating and fundamental questions ever asked”. Just like in the recent TV series Cosmos, deGrasse Tyson’s goal is to educate people and make them more interested in the topic he presents. He does so by appealing to the majority of viewers, and I think the majority has only a very basic understanding of the universe. He describes the topics probably as simple as they can get without complicated equations and with adequate examples. This is a good and (thanks to deGrasse Tyson’s animated style of presentation) entertaining course for someone without much knowledge or someone who has just a very basic understanding of the topic. It suits different age categories, from children to adult learners. However, I do not think it will appeal much to anyone with advanced knowledge because the material is kept quite basic and I would take that into consideration before recommending the course to a friend. Also, as can be seen from various other reviews, while I like deGrasse Tyson’s way of presenting, which gets dramatic at times but also tries to keep the topic fun, it clearly does not appeal to everyone. April 26, 2015
Rated 5 out of 5 by Great overview of the universe I listen to his lectures on plane trips ... completely lose track of time. Great job taking a very technical topic and analogizing/simplifying for those who are not astrophysicists! February 8, 2015
Rated 3 out of 5 by The real (basic) stuff Dr Tyson is very good at popularizing science, the scientific method and the vast field of astrophysics...we need more folks like him. He is a great speaker, albeit a bit overly dramatic in these lectures, speaking clearly and enthusiastically about a subject that he clearly knows and loves. In the video-downloaded version I watched (twice, actually) I was under-impressed with the level of instruction (middle school, home schooling level, especially if supplemented with better graphics), perhaps because it's a little old...the course notes were published in 2003, and no reference is older than 2002. Quite a bit of progress has been made in the field of astrophysics since then (and was this series released in 2008?). I can't really recommend this series to the older, more experienced student/person...maybe the updated (2012) Tyson lectures in 'The Inexplicable Universe: Unsolved Mysteries ' is a better choice...when it's on sale and you have a super coupon. February 3, 2015
Rated 2 out of 5 by Still Too Much Drama There was more interesting science in this course than in Tyson's other course. Unfortunately, the first lecture was good and it went downhill from there. If you know a reasonable amount of science, this course isn't for you. My kids watched the first lecture with me but were never interested in watching any more. But the overly dramatic presentation gets to be too much. Tyson has done a great job promoting science and scientific learning. But his histrionic lectures really turn me off. The Great Courses has lots of great science courses. This isn't one of them. January 29, 2015
  • 2015-07-27T15:15:31.136-05:00
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