neil degrasse tyson


Neil deGrasse Tyson explains why the heck we have leap days

Neil deGrasse Tyson sat down with comedian Chuck Nice to give an entertaining and informative explanation of our calendar's biggest head scratcher.

Norwegian University of Science and Technology/Wikipedia, Representative Image from Canva

Neil deGrasse Tyson explains why we have a Leap Year.

While Neil deGrasse Tyson might usually break down the more complex mysteries of our universe, he also has a knack for discussing the mundane in a way that makes it every bit as interesting.

On a recent episode of the StarTalk Podcast, where the popular astrophysicist chats about “everything under the sun; Or rather under the universe!” Tyson sat down with comedian Chuck Nice to break down how and why Leap Day came to be.

“People seem to be mystified by it. A day just shows up on the calendar,” Tyson told Nice.

But really, there’s nothing all that mystical about it. We know a year consists of 365 revolutions around the sun, aka a “year.” However, “there's no law in the heavens that requires” a year to consist of exactly 365 revolutions.

In reality, a year is 365 revolutions…plus one-fourth. Or six hours.

Tyson then pondered, “so what are you gonna do with the six hours?” Which brought on a pretty intriguing concept: a rotating New Year’s celebration. Celebrating at the standard midnight one year, followed by a 6am celebration the following year, then midnight again, and so on.

“That’d be kinda dope,” Nice and Tyson agreed.

But regardless, we don’t do that. Instead, in ancient Rome, which used the Julian calendar, they “pocketed” the extra six hours and technically celebrated New Year’s early. When 24 hours accrued every 4 years, they’d give an extra day to the”month that needed it most,” i.e. February.

But here’s the thing: Ancient Romans didn't know that it actually takes “a little less” than 365 for the Earth to go around the sun, Tyson explained. Therefore days that should have been “reckoned” were not, causing key moments of the calendar to keep shifting. The spring equinox, for instance, which was originally on March 21st, continuously moved up a day.

Neil deGrasse Explains Why We Have Leap Days

This became more of a glaring problem in the Late 16th century, when the religious holiday of Easter, which closely followed the spring equinox, had gotten dangerously close to Passover on the calendar.

So, Pope Gregory XIII had his team of scientists (aka the Jesuits) rectify the situation and account for the skipped days.

The result? October got 10 of its days swiped that year, and we got the Gregorian calendar commonly used today. Which, like the Julian calendar, adds a day to the calendar every 4 years, except when the year is divisible by 100 and not divisible by 400.

This is what makes the year 2000 so remarkable, Tyson told Nice. It was an incredibly rare “century year” that met the parameters needed to be a leap year. 1900, 1800, 1700 couldn't claim that.

And perhaps this is the most amazing part of all: the Jesuits were able to figure all of this out “without a telescope,” Tyson said.

Leap Years might feel a bit wonky, arbitrary even. But really, it’s a nod to human ingenuity. The concept of time is such a complex, almost incomprehensible aspect of existence. It’s extraordinary that we have been able to even come up with a measuring system, albeit an imperfect one, in the first place.

Science is part of how America became America, Neil deGrasse Tyson says in a video.

In the video, posted in April 2017, Tyson delivers what he says might be his most important message ever: America — stop messing around.

C'mon! We put a man on the moon! We invented the internet! And yeah, we've never been a perfect county. Every era had challenges. Tyson recalls the '60s and '70s: Vietnam, the civil rights movement, the Cold War.

But even then, he says, we never had to argue about what fundamental, scientific facts were.

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We didn't have Vice President Mike Pence disparaging evolution as just a theory. We didn't have false scares about vaccines (and a president who spouts anti-vaxxer rhetoric) or GMOs. We didn't have to argue about whether the planet was getting warmer.

Over the past few decades, we've seemingly lost the ability to agree on what the truth even is, which Tyson warns is a dangerous path.

[rebelmouse-image 19527741 dam="1" original_size="480x270" caption="GIF from StarTalk Radio/YouTube." expand=1]GIF from StarTalk Radio/YouTube.

Most of all, though, Tyson is done — completely and utterly done — messing around when it comes to people who don't take science seriously.

There are solutions. Take climate change, for instance. We could fight climate change with a carbon tax, or increased regulations, or more nuclear power plants, or solar energy plants. Heck, we could do all of the above! But nooooo, instead we have a Congress that literally throws snowballs around.

You can just hear in his voice how sick and tired he is of it.

“Every minute one is in denial, you are delaying the political solution that should have been established years ago," says Tyson.

Tyson is channeling the passion and frustration that so many of us are feeling right now. It's awesome to see that brought out in force.

Watch Neil deGrasse Tyson's full, impassioned video:

Science In America

Dear Facebook UniverseI offer this four-minute video on "Science in America" containing what may be the most important words I have ever spoken.As always, but especially these days, keep looking up.—Neil deGrasse Tyson

Posted by Neil deGrasse Tyson on Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Neil deGrasse Tyson for president?

That's what some people were shouting for during a recent appearance by the astrophysicist and pop-culture icon. Would he ever run? Tyson said, as he has before: "No. No. Uh, nooooo."

But that wasn't all he had to say on politics.

[rebelmouse-image 19526588 dam="1" original_size="750x535" caption="Surely no question gets just an easy "no" from Tyson. Photo by Joshua Lott/AFP/Getty Images." expand=1]Surely no question gets just an easy "no" from Tyson. Photo by Joshua Lott/AFP/Getty Images.

While picking up the Lincoln Leadership Prize on March 10, he dropped five to-the-heart points for his fellow American citizens:

1. Why aren't there more scientists in government? Because people vote for charisma over knowledge.

Getting different types of people in office would mean "we have to really rethink what we are as a democracy," he said. "Voting for someone because of what they know — what a concept!"

He makes it seem so mind-bogglingly simple. Photo by Thos Robinson/Getty Images for Popular Science.

2. Don't blame politicians. Blame voters.

"You voted for these people! ... If you have issues, your issues are not with the politician. Your issues are with your fellow voters," he said.

At first, it seems Tyson is repeating what so many do: Voters can just vote out leaders they don't like. But there's more to it, he explained, because just thinking this way — that merely changing one person at the top will make everything be fine — "implies that we're all just here, the electorate, and don't really matter."

Does Tyson have a fix for this kind of dysfunctional electorate? Oh, yes.

3. Fix the electorate by arming them with science!

"I will go to the electorate and say, 'Here is what science is and how and why it works, and here's how you can become empowered thinking that way,'" he explained.

It's the best kind of evil plan, isn't it?! There's no time for a presidency when you're already working to make a better government by arming voters with objective facts for their personal philosophies so they can be choosier about their leaders.

Knowledge really is power!

4. What about the EPA being headed by a climate-change denier? He says: Watch for actions, not just words.

The Trump-appointed Environmental Protection Agency head, Scott Pruitt, denies humans are causing climate change and has even sued the EPA multiple times. While you might expect a science whiz like Tyson to fire up arguments against a denier, he leaned on logic and voter responsibility.

"We live in a free country; you should think what you want," he said, and that includes Pruitt. But what the country can and must do is push back against misinformation when it turns to legislative and regulatory action.

5. Defending the truth means defending democracy.

"When people are fighting over what is actually true when we know what is true? I don't know what country that is," he said. "But what I do know is that it's the beginning of an end of an informed democracy when that happens."

Scientists often have a flair for the drama of impending doom, but these words genuinely strike loudly right now. How many of our friends' political discussions lately just seem like two siblings fighting over who's to blame for a party that left the house trashed? That's definitely not an informed democracy making any sort of progress, is it? Meanwhile, the objective fact is that something must be done about the mess.

So, take note, people of the electorate! Neil deGrasse Tyson is here to guide you.

He wouldn't be our president, but he's already giving us what we need to hear to ma​ke our own changes.